HomeHealthTreating the Lingering Effects of Whiplash

Treating the Lingering Effects of Whiplash

Treating the lingering effects of whiplash may include chiropractic care, massage therapy, physical therapy, and medication. Whiplash can be caused by a number of things, although a car accident is the number one cause. This can lead to damage to much of the soft tissue in the neck.

Whiplash has the best outcome when treated early on. Lingering effects usually occur most often in those who waited to get care or had no treatment at all, although they also occur in those who had more pain and limited movement after the original accident. The longer treatment is put off, the harder whiplash is to treat.

Causes of Whiplash

Whiplash occurs when a force or motion causes your neck to move out of its normal motion range. This usually happens in a backward and forward movement. This puts strain on the ligaments, muscles, tendons, and spinal discs in the neck.

The Mayo Clinic says that rear-ended car accidents are the biggest cause of whiplash. Whiplash is also caused by contact sports such as football and soccer, as well as from physical abuse such as being shaken or punched. Even roller coaster rides and water slides can cause whiplash.

Effects of Whiplash

Whiplash can have devastating effects. Days after the accident, you may experience common symptoms such as neck stiffness and pain, shoulder or arm pain, headache, dizziness, jaw pain, fatigue, visual disturbances, and back pain. More severe symptoms include anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, stress, post-traumatic stress syndrome, drug dependency, insomnia, and social isolation.

Some cases of whiplash will resolve in time on their own and many cases will resolve with proper treatment after the accident. Unfortunately for some, the effects can linger on for years; this usually occurs because someone didn’t get care right after the accident or incident.

The American Chiropractor reports on a whiplash follow-up study that was done in England. It found that 70% of patients still had whiplash 15 years after the accident and that symptoms included arm paraesthesia, neck pain, headache, back pain, tinnitus, and dizziness.

Older patients and women tend to have worse outcomes, with 80% of women reporting symptoms after 15 years as opposed to 50% of the men. Chronic symptoms caused abnormal psychological evaluations and 60% of the patients said that doctors were not able to help their symptoms.

Treatments for lingering effects are often the same as for the symptoms that come about right after the whiplash occurred, although the outcomes are usually not as favorable.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care is often a helpful treatment in whiplash injuries. In the previously mentioned study, 100% of the patients who had severe lingering problems had degeneration of the cervical spine, which is an indication of spinal misalignment uncorrected over time.

A chiropractor will evaluate your spine to see if your symptoms are caused by any restricted areas that are causing interference to the nervous system. They may take x-rays to see if there is any damage to the spine caused by the accident.

If a chiropractor feels that she or he can help your whiplash, there are a few ways that they may go about treating it. The American Chiropractic Association says that spinal manipulation will often be performed, and some chiropractors will add in ultrasound or electrical stimulation for short-term relief. They may recommend ice or heat and exercises to keep the neck active.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can be beneficial for those with the lingering effects of whiplash. People who have chronic symptoms often have muscle tightness and damage. Massage can help in a number of ways. It can help relax the muscles to decrease pain

Massage helps increase the flow of oxygen. This helps oxygen reach the injured tissues so that the healing process can speed up. Specific massage techniques can also bring freer movement to not only muscles but the injured ligaments as well.

Physical Therapy

If you are experiencing lingering effects from whiplash you may want to explore physical therapy. Physical therapists can work to restore proper movement and function to the soft tissues in your neck. Treatments from physical therapy include both active and passive ones.

Passive treatments are usually done in the acute stages of whiplash when you are experiencing a lot of pain. Eventually the goal of physical therapy is to get you active and start doing exercises that are therapeutic and strengthen your body.


You may choose pain medication to help decrease symptoms from whiplash. Medication may help you feel better but it doesn’t do anything to actually fix the cause of the problem so it isn’t something you should rely on for the long-term.

If you have lingering effects you may choose to take medication while you explore other options. Once you find other treatments that actually start to make improvements you should start decreasing your medication intake.

Whiplash is a common injury to the neck. The good news is that early treatment helps relieve most cases quickly and treatment can even help those with lingering effects.

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