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Whiplash – Part I

In this article, we will be looking at the three most commonly asked questions:

  1. What is a whiplash?
  2. What are the signs and symptoms of a whiplash injury?
  3. What are the common treatment techniques available?

What is a whiplash?

Whiplash is a common term for sudden acceleration-deceleration forced on the neck. This is usually as a result of rear-end or side impact motor vehicle accidents or any other mishaps. The acceleration-deceleration forces cause the head into forward flexion (head down position) and very quickly the head gets whipped back into extension (head in a looking up position).

When this occurs, the forces may result in bony or soft tissue injuries such as in the disc, ligaments, tendons, neck muscles and nerve roots.

There are several grades to the severity of whiplash associated disorders (WAD).

Grade 0: No pain or discomfort. No physical signs of injury.

Grade 1: Neck pain, stiffness or tenderness. No physical signs of injury.

Grade 2: Neck pain, stiffness or tenderness. Some physical signs of injury such as point of tenderness or trouble turning the head.

Grade 3: Pain, stiffness or tenderness and neurological signs of injury, such as changes to the reflexes or weakness in the arms

Grade 4: pain and fracture or dislocation of the neck.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms after a whiplash injury are neck pain or stiffness. This can occur immediately after the injury or even after a few days.

Other symptoms may include

  • Headache
  • Pain in the shoulders and arms
  • Dizziness
  • Altered sensation, pins and needles, numbness in the arms
  • Weakness
  • Visual and auditory symptoms
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty in swallowing

What are some treatments available for treatment of whiplash?

There are many treatments available for the treatment of a whiplash injury. In this article, we will only list what is available but not grade the quality of each treatment techniques. This will be done in the next article.

Some of the treatments include:


What it means

  1. Act as usual

Staying as active as possible within tolerable levels.

  1. Active treatment

Actively perform repeated movements of the neck in a pain free range.

  1. TENS machine

The current from the TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine may inhibit pain in the tissues surrounding the electrodes. It works by distracting your nerves and brain from the pain sensation.

  1. Exercise

Exercise improves pain, range of motion, flexibility, function and physical fitness. It is thought that exercise promotes the production of endorphins, naturally occurring hormones by the brain that can help with pain control.

  1. Manipulation

Also known as ‘adjustment’ or ‘cracking’. It is thought that manipulation of a spinal joint may provide temporary increase in joint range of motion. It also corrects spinal alignment which gives relief from musculoskeletal pain.

  1. Mobilization

A technique that entails gentle, controlled movements of the joints affected. This aims to improve mobility in areas of the spine which leads to a decrease in restriction. Hence, removes a source of pain and provides symptomatic relief.

  1. Pilates

Aims to selectively increase the strength and endurance of the deep core muscles of the torso. By doing so, posture and stability is improved, reducing the amount of pressure on the spine.

  1. Acupuncture

A treatment modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture influences the nervous system and neurotransmitter which respond to needling stimulation and electro-acupuncture, which in turns influences pain relief. From a TCM perspective, acupuncture is thought to restore the flow of “chi” through the body.

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