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What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to the neck (specifically, the cervical spine and related tissues) caused by a rapid back and forth movement. The most common cause of whiplash is an auto accident in which a person’s car has been hit from behind, though it can also be caused by sports or other physical trauma. Technically, whiplash usually means that a strain (microscopic tearing) has occurred to the muscles and tendons in the neck, but it can also include neck sprains which means microscopic tearing of the ligaments in the neck.

 

Neck Anatomy–A Closer Look

The neck is composed of the cervical spine, supporting tissues, and other important structures such as the esophagus, trachea, and thyroid. Whiplash specifically affects the supporting structures of the cervical spine: the muscles, tendons and ligaments.

The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae, with shock-absorbing discs between each vertebra. There is a vast network of muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support these bones and discs and give them stability and mobility.

diagram showing what happens during whiplash
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What Causes Whiplash Pain?

The rapid back and forth movement of a whiplash injury causes unhealthy stretching and tears in the neck structures, resulting in a loss of stability and mobility. Pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back is usually felt within 24 hours of the injury. Whiplash injuries can also cause severe headaches and numbness or tingling in the arms, hands or fingers. If a rehabilitation program is not undertaken after the tissues have started to heal, long-term chronic pain can develop due to the prolonged lack of mobility and stiffness.

Treatment for Whiplash

If you feel any of the above symptoms, you should see a doctor right away. Only a doctor has the skills and tools to rule out more serious injuries such as a cervical fracture or nerve damage. Once a whiplash diagnosis is determined, your doctor will likely recommend a course of therapy that includes ice, rest, stretching, and over-the-counter medications for pain control. Once the injury’s acute phase is over, a comprehensive exercise-based rehabilitation program should be undertaken to re-establish the normal muscle and movement patterns in the neck and to prevent chronic pain and dysfunction.


Dr. Jeremy James

Written by Dr. Jeremy James. Dr. James founded and was director of the Aspen Club Back Institute in Aspen, Colorado, is the coauthor of the bestselling The Younger Next Year Back Book and earned his Doctor of Chiropractic from the University of Western States. Learn more about Dr. James here.

How BackForever Stops Pain Associated with Whiplash

As with any program involving physical activity, consult your physician prior to starting

If you had a whiplash injury, the at home program from BackForever can relieve pain and help you return to an active life. By rebuilding strength and tone in the neck muscle groups that were involved in the injury, the support structures of the cervical spine can return to their pre-injury health.

BackForever uses a proprietary comprehensive self-assessment to produce online digital programs unique to each user’s specific condition and beginning fitness level. Your BackForever program is tailored to you and teaches you how to rebuild your body, end back pain, and change your life.

End the Pain – Start Today

Three years ago I had back pain so bad I could not tie my own shoes. After a few months of discipline and adherence to the BackForever program the problem was completely solved. To put it simply, BackForever gave me my life back.

-Tony Caine, Aspen, CO, Founder of Spyglass, Inc.