Man in need of chiropractic care after suffering whiplash injury from car accident
Whiplash refers to a mechanism of injury that is most commonly due to a motor vehicle accident (MVA). Furthermore, the term whiplash is also used to describe a wide range of symptoms that may occur after experiencing a collision. In 2010 alone, there were 3.9 million nonfatal car crashes in the United States. With over 85% of people involved in motor vehicle accidents reporting neck pain, it is increasingly important to understand what whiplash associative disorder is and to seek treatment from a chiropractor or trained musculoskeletal specialist.


The most common reason for whiplash is due to a motor vehicle accident. During a collision, energy is transferred from vehicle to vehicle. The amount of energy transferred during the crash depends on the velocity and size of each vehicle and the vectors of impact. Automobiles are designed to absorb much of this force. However, a lot of energy is still passed along to the driver and passengers of the vehicle. While seatbelts should always be worn, they also relay energy to the upper spine causing a quick acceleration and deceleration of the neck.


The cervical spine (neck) is a series of vertebrae (bones), discs, muscles, and ligaments that support the base of the head and protect the spinal cord. Subsequently, there are joints between each vertebrae that allow the neck to flex, extend, and rotate. These structures work in unison to allow for movement but also to provide stability of the neck.
If any of these structures become damaged during a motor vehicle accident, they can become a source of pain.


The muscles, tendons, and ligaments are commonly affected from whiplash due to the strains/sprains. Inflammation of the muscle and nerve supply can be a cause of pain. Depending on the severity, these injuries tend to heal in 8-12 weeks.
The facets joints of the vertebrae are also commonly implicated in pain that lasts longer than 8-12 weeks. When our neck gets extended backward during a motor vehicle accident, the facets can come together (jam) and create irritation.
Injuries to the disc have also been implicated as a source of pain. Small tears the the outside of the disc (annular fibers) can create an irritation when we move our neck. Rarely, a disc herniation may result causing neck and arm pain. In rare instances, there is also the chance of fracture of one or more of the vertebrae.


Often times, symptoms do not manifest immediately after an auto accident. Symptoms can come on the next morning or days/weeks following the accident. The majority of these symptoms typically resolve within 12 weeks with treatment but can also linger for over a year in some cases. These symptoms may include but are not limited to:
  • Headache due to the structures of the neck (cervicogenic) or concussion.
  • Arm pain that is referred (away from injured area) or from compression or irritation around a nerve.
  • Neck stiffness
  • Low back pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance
  • And more...


Therapeutic exercise is heavily utilized to strengthen the affected muscles to allow for proper neck mechanics and restore proper motor control of the cervical spine.
Spinal manipulative therapy or "adjustments" are mobilizations of the joints in your neck to decrease pain and promote proper movement at the joint.
Massage and other manual therapies are used to decrease pain, decrease muscle tightness/guarding, and stimulate blood flow.
Medications can be helpful for symptom control but are not recommended by the North American Spine Society to be the only treatment source.
Surgery is rarely needed for whiplash.

What to do if you've been in a motor vehicle crash

Contact a spine care specialist for an evaluation. They will be able to assist you in regaining your range of motion and reducing your symptoms. While this injury may be a major aggravation, it is important to remember that with proper treatment and time most people recover from their whiplash symptoms.
Fortunately for most Kelowna residents, your insurance can help pay for your medical expenses. For more information talk with your car insurance about how to start a claim.
Dr. Courtney Means

Dr. Courtney Means


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