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Probably the most common associated cause of whiplash is a rear end road traffic accident. But that isn’t the only cause of whiplash. Whiplash occurs when a person’s head is moved backwards and then forwards very suddenly with great force. So any fall, trauma or sporting injury could potentially cause a whiplash injury.  

Whiplash will occur when the structures of your neck, muscles and ligaments extend beyond their normal range. Following a trauma, it is important to monitor any symptoms you believe to be related to the event. Whiplash can come on immediately after a trauma or sometimes days after. When symptoms occur days after an event this is actually worse for the prognosis of the condition.


Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of whiplash will usually occur within 48hours of a trauma, the most common being:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Pain on movement of neck
  • A loss of movement of the neck
  • Headaches
  • Tingling or pins and needles in the arms


Less common symptoms include:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Memory issues
  • Difficulty concentrating



Diagnosis will typically be made from your practitioner asking a series of questions about the complaint and particular details into the traumatic event. Followed with an examination of your neck – including an analysis of range of motion, assessment of the tenderness in your neck and shoulders and neurological testing of your upper limbs.

Imaging may be required usually in the form of an x-ray initially. Although an x-ray will not diagnose whiplash it is used to rule out other complications such as fractures, dislocation or existing arthritis. Further imaging maybe required such as an MRI if there are significant neurological symptoms such as pin and needles in the arms. This form of imaging can be used to detect soft tissue injuries to spinal cord, discs and surrounding nerves.

Based on the diagnosis and symptoms whiplash can be grouped into 3 grades;

Grade 1- Neck complaint of pain, stiffness or tenderness. 

Grade 2- Neck complaint with neurological symptoms (pins and needles or numbness).

Grade 3- Neck complaint with fracture or dislocation. 



Treatment is aimed at reducing pain, restoring normal range of motion and eventually returning to normal daily activities. Your treatment plan will depend on many factors such as age, severity of trauma and what grade of whiplash you fall into.

Some cases of whiplash can improve in as little as two weeks. However some can become chronic and be ongoing, leaving individuals with headaches and a loss of movement in their neck. Our advice is if you suspect this type of injury seek appropriate professional advice.

Chiropractic care for whiplash is found to be highly effective. Your Chiropractor will begin with taking a full detailed history of the event believed to of caused the whiplash. A comprehensive physical and neurological examination and finally x-rays if deemed necessary. Treatment typically will consist of chiropractic manipulation and soft tissue work. In my experience patients diagnosed with whiplash respond well to care and usually see significant improvement in 2-3 months.


Dr. Thomas Pooley (D.C)
Rayleigh Clinic

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