The traffic light is red. Your vehicle is completely stopped … and then B-A-N-G! Your vehicle is thrust forward, your spine lengthens and rises in the seat, your head snaps rearward, your body bounces off the seat-back into the harness system, the harness restrains your torso, your head and neck now rebound shifting forward, (this all happens in less than 600 mili-seconds) you’re dazed! Then the realization …. You were just smashed from behind! Was it an accident? NO! Accidents are when you trip, spill milk, or drop things. This is a MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH (MVC). (1)

When your vehicle is rear-ended, the neck and head bear the brunt of the forces. Nerves, ligaments and muscles are stretched beyond their natural limits due to abnormal motion in the lower neck vertebra which differs from normal motion. Injuries also happen in normal ranges of motion. (2) It’s the transfer of energy in less than ½ a second that causes the damage. Whiplash Injuries often occur at speeds less than 2-5 mph as well because vehicles bounce instead of crushing which increases the forces to the occupants of the vehicle. In fact there is no known minimal threshold for injury!

Despite possibly feeling fine afterward, you may have just received a common yet serious whiplash injury. Dr. Leatherman and Dr. Bak will tell you that it’s a deceiving injury, because whiplash is NOT a diagnosis, it is a mechanism. Pain may come on quickly or you may not develop symptoms for hours, weeks, or months. Your neck (cervical spine) contains muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs, joints and nerves confined to a relatively small area. Whiplash mechanism can injure all these body components.
Although it happens most frequently in rear-impact crashes, whiplash can occur in other crash directions: side-impact, frontal-impact, and offset angular impacts.

Besides the head, neck and upper back, pain from a whiplash Injury often extend into other areas of the body, such as the shoulders, arms, as well as the low back, hips, legs, knees and feet. You may also suffer muscle stiffness, spasms, burning or tingling sensations as well as headaches and numbness. Even if you don’t have any immediate whiplash symptoms, you should visit a chiropractor who has been trained in MVC injury as soon as possible.

Most common symptoms after a crash According to the Spine Research Institute of San Diego (3)

Neck Pain 92%
Headache 57%
Fatigue 56%
Shoulder pain 49%
Anxiety 44%
Inter-scapular pain 42%
Low back pain 39%

Sleep disturbance 39%
Upper limb paresthesia 30%
Sensitivity to Noise 29%
Impaired concentration 26%
Blurred vision 21%
Irritability 21%
Difficulty swallowing 16%

Dizziness 15%
Forgetfulness 15%
Upper limb pain 12%
Upper limb weakness 6%
Ringing in the ears 4%
Jaw/Facial pain 4%

What Can Affect Whiplash Injury Recovery?
The severity of whiplash injury and recovery depends on many risk factors. Age, sex, physical condition, posture and prior medical history can have a major effect on the acuteness and length of symptoms.

  • As you age, you lose flexibility, strength and hydration in your neck joints, discs and ligaments. Older adults may require more extensive rehabilitation for this injury.
  • Women are injured in whiplash mechanism crashes 2x more than men. Experts believe this could be because men have stronger neck muscles, women have smaller bone structures and due to hormonal differences between the sexes. Kids are at 2/3 the risk of an adult.
  • Health conditions like disc degeneration, arthritis and prior injuries can play a role.
  • If you’re a smoker, obese or don’t exercise, your chances of healing quickly are reduced.
  • Poor posture, poor seat position and unawareness of impact at the time of MVC can worsen the whiplash mechanism injury.
  • If your driver seat’s head restraint is too low, you may endure a more intense injury.

In Fact, regarded as one of the best prognostic indicators by multiple research publications, is risk factor analysis. Risk factors are factors or conditions that when present may impact the health of an individual involved in a motor vehicle collision (MVC). There are 17 factors that increase initial injury risk and 30 factors that contribute to chronic injury after a crash. (4)

Those 47 risk factors should not be regarded as all encompassing, but they have been studied and reported in the clinical literature, with enough validity to be considered real and accurate measures.

How Does Integrity Chiropractic Treat Whiplash Injuries?
At Integrity Chiropractic, both Dr. Leatherman and Dr. Bak combined have taken over 500 hours of advanced coursework in MVC and whiplash injury. Our doctors will conduct a specific physical exam to determine the extent of any injuries, will obtain the proper x-rays, and may order MRI’s, CT’s or diagnostic ultrasound to document specific tissue damage.

If whiplash injury is confirmed, Dr. Leatherman and Dr. Bak will also properly grade the injury according to the published guidelines (5, 6) and formulate an appropriate treatment plan to address each injury. This may include spinal adjustments to allow for proper spinal motion, soft tissue work to alleviate muscle spasms, active stretching to improve range of motion, active therapeutic exercises to aid in stabilization and proper movement, disc decompression to reduce bulges and radiating pain, dynamic spinal traction to restructure the spinal curves and address ligaments, therapeutic ultrasound to aid in pain and inflammation reduction, and home care protocols as well.

Fortunately, research has shown that chiropractic is an extremely effective approach to healing whiplash. In a study published in The Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine, researchers found 74% of those people in the study treated for whiplash with chiropractic care showed improvement. The researchers stated, “The results from this study provide further evidence that chiropractic is an effective treatment for chronic whiplash symptoms.” The researchers also noted that other treatments for whiplash were disappointing. They concluded, “Chiropractic is the only proven effective treatment in chronic cases.”(7) Another study published in Injury, found “93% of patients improved following chiropractic.”(8)

Preventing Whiplash Injury Severity
Dr. Leatherman and Dr. Bak are also trained in prevention techniques as there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of whiplash injury. One of the best protectors is understanding head restraint geometry. Make sure your vehicle’s head restraints are correctly positioned. (9) The center back of your head should touch the center of the head restraint (which is a piece of safety equipment).

If you know someone who has suffered a whiplash injury from an MVC, let them know that Integrity chiropractic has been extensively trained in these injuries and that chiropractic may be able to help them recover!

  1. Whiplash Injuries: The cervical Acceleration Deceleration. Syndrome. 3rd Edition. Foreman S., Croft AC. Lipincott, Williams & Wilkins (2002)
  2. Motion Analysis of Cervical Vertebrae During Whiplash Loading – Kneoka K., Ono K., Hayashi K. Spine: 15 April 1999 – Volume 24 – Issue 8 – pp 763-769.
  4. Whiplash and Mild traumatic Brain Injuries: A Guide for Patients and Practitioners. Croft AC., Spine Research Institute of San Diego Press (2009)
  5. J Chiropr Med. 2016 Jun;15(2):81-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2016.04.009. Epub 2016 May 26.
  6. Comparing 2 Whiplash Grading Systems to Predict Clinical Outcomes. Croft AC, Bagherian A, Mickelsen PK, Wagner S.
  8. A symptomatic classification of whiplash injury and the implications for treatment. Khan S, Cook J, Gargan M, Bannister G., Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine 1999;21(1):22-25.
  9. Chiropractic treatment of chronic whiplash injuries – Woodward MN, Cook JCH, Gargan MF, Bannister GC. Injury 1996;27:643-645.