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Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash is commonly caused by an auto accident where the driver of one vehicle is rear ended by another vehicle. These injuries are also sometimes referred to acceleration/deceleration injuries. As a result of a rear end collision, a driver or passenger in a vehicle that is struck is suddenly thrown backward and forward, perhaps several times depending on the significance of the collision. This sudden movement followed by an abrupt stop can is why the injury is referred to as a whiplash because of the speed with which it occurs. Immediately after the impact the seatbelt may pull the driver or passenger back and force the head to hit the head restraint.

Whiplash injuries can affect both bone structure and muscles and other soft tissues. Often, minor whiplash injury does not cause permanent injury. However, there are many instances where permanent injury can result from whiplash.

Common symptoms of whiplash may include:

  • Mild to severe headaches
  • Dizziness – Unable to walk in a straight line
  • Unable to see properly
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Whiplash is sometimes hard to diagnosis because the victim may feel as if they are not severely injured. It’s not uncommon for the victim to feel ‘shaken up’ after the accident. This can also occur if the victim is in a mild case of shock. They may not be thinking clearly or may feel as if the injury is a mild neck pain. Unfortunately this person actually may have a serious whiplash injury even if they do not feel any immediate pain after the accident. This is why our auto accident lawyers recommend always going directly to an emergency room or seeing your primary care doctor immediately after an accident. If you do not see a doctor you may be causing others to question your injury at a later time. Insurance companies will use lack of immediate treatment against you in court. Similarly, if you do go for immediate treatment, they will also say that you over treated. Thus, you should not worry about what an insurance company adjuster may think because they will do everything they can to minimize your injury regardless. You should also be very careful with regard to any statements made at the scene of the accident. Even the most innocent statements will be twisted by an insurance company adjuster to try to reduce the true value of your claim.

When you go to the emergency room or to a physician, x-rays may be obtained to rule out any bone breaks. Normal x-rays only really clearly show bones so usually the x-ray is read as normal even though you may have other soft tissue injury to the muscles, ligaments or tendons as a result of the accident. These other types of inuuries simply do not show up on a regular x-ray. Frequently, the initial treating physician will suggest the use of a soft collar to help give additional support to the head and neck or specialized cushions for the mid or low back to be used while in a sitting position.


Mild cases of whiplash may heal over time with physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, the use of a collar and limiting stress on the head and neck. More severe cases can take a very long time to heal with all the above treatment modalities and may require extended treatment regimens. Physical therapy modalities may include hot packs, cold packs, strengthening exercises, range of motion exercises, stretching exercises, ultrasound, manual manipulation, aquatic exercises, and the like. Each has a particular purpose and taken together can assist in the recovery process.

Remember to always use your seat belt when driving. The use of seat belts and airbags greatly decrease the risk and severity of whiplash. The head restraint should be the proper height. If the head restraint is too low or high it may actually increase the severity of whiplash rather than helping. The bottom line is that whiplash is a common injury but should be regarded as a serious injury. With proper treatment hopefully the whiplash injury will heal without permanent residuals.

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