Whiplash Injuries

What is a whiplash injury exactly?

Whiplash, or Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) describes an injury that occurs when a rapid acceleration or deceleration of the head happens relative to the body, producing a “whipping” motion of the head, leading to damage or irritation of structures in the neck.


There are different grades of Whiplash Associated Disorder

WAD 1:

  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • No physical signs are found on examination (normal range of motion, no swelling, normal strength, etc.)
  • No or minor interference with normal daily activities



WAD 2: (Most Common)

  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Physical signs are found (decreased range of motion, swelling, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, etc.)
  • Substantial interference with normal daily activities

WAD 3:

  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Physical signs are found with nerve involvement (reduced sensation, weak or absent reflexes, muscle weakness, referred pain, etc.)

WAD 4:

  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Serious structural issues such as fractured or dislocated vertebrae
  • Immediate medical emergency consultation needed to address potential neck instability


What happens to my spine typically with whiplash?

  • Whiplash injuries can cause misalignments of the vertebrae in your spine (usually in the neck), often with muscle and nerve damage or irritation as well.
  • In chiropractic, this condition is called subluxation, with whiplash being one of the most common causes of vertebral subluxation.


Will I have permanent damage to my spine?

  • Literature suggests that 43% of patients will suffer long term symptoms following whiplash and if patients are still symptomatic after 3 months then there is almost a 90% they will remain.
  • Studies show that the first 3 months are the most critical to influence long term consequences of whiplash, so it’s very important not to delay the start of your care.


How should I manage my whiplash injury?

  • After your accident, the first step is to make sure you do not have any life-threatening injuries.
  • Emergency medical practitioners will be able to assess and treat you for any dangerous conditions like broken bones, dislocations or damage to your internal organs.
  • Once you have ruled out any immediate life-threatening conditions, you should seek your chiropractor for a thorough examination of your spine, muscles and nerves.


A wellness approach

  • For many patients suffering from whiplash, the resolution of symptoms and return to function are just the beginning.
  • Sometimes injuries can be a blessing in disguise – becoming more aware of how your body works and what is required for health is an incredibly valuable lesson!
  • Your chiropractor is an expert in spinal health as well as general wellness and should be a valuable resource for your ongoing wellness lifestyle once your injuries are resolved.




Butler, R. J., & Johnson, W. G. (2008). Satisfaction with low back pain care. The Spine Journal8(3), 510-521.
 Carey, T. S., Garrett, J., Jackman, A., McLaughlin, C., Fryer, J., & Smucker, D. R. (1995). The outcomes and costs of care for acute low back pain among patients seen by primary care practitioners, chiropractors, and orthopaedic surgeons. New England journal of medicine333(14), 913-917.
Cassidy, J. D., Côté, P., Carroll, L. J., & Kristman, V. (2005). Incidence and course of low back pain episodes in the general population. Spine30(24), 2817-2823.
Chou, R., Qaseem, A., Snow, V., Casey, D., Cross, J. T., Shekelle, P., & Owens, D. K. (2007). Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Annals of internal medicine147(7), 478-491.
Haas, M., Goldberg, B., Aickin, M., Ganger, B., & Attwood, M. (2004). A practice-based study of patients with acute and chronic low back pain attending primary care and chiropractic physicians: two-week to 48-month follow-up. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics27(3), 160-169.
Haas, M., Sharma, R., & Stano, M. (2005). Cost-effectiveness of medical and chiropractic care for acute and chronic low back pain. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics28(8), 555-563
Hertzman-Miller, R. P., Morgenstern, H., Hurwitz, E. L., Yu, F., Adams, A. H., Harber, P., & Kominski, G. F. (2002). Comparing the satisfaction of low back pain patients randomised to receive medical or chiropractic care: results from the UCLA low-back pain study. Journal Information92(10).
Legorreta, A. P., Metz, R. D., Nelson, C. F., Ray, S., Chernicoff, H. O., & DiNubile, N. A. (2004). Comparative analysis of individuals with and without chiropractic coverage: patient characteristics, utilisation, and costs. Archives of Internal Medicine164(18), 1985.
Liebenson, C. (Ed.). (2007). Rehabilitation of the spine: a practitioner’s manual. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Manca, A., Kumar, K., Taylor, R. S., Jacques, L., Eldabe, S., Meglio, M., … & Sculpher, M. J. (2008). Quality of life, resource consumption and costs of spinal cord stimulation versus conventional medical management in neuropathic pain patients with failed back surgery syndrome (PROCESS trial).European Journal of Pain, 12(8), 1047-1058.
Rosomoff HL.(2001).Presentation at the American Academy of Pain Medicine 17th Annual Meeting,Miami, Florida
Van Tulder, M., Becker, A., Bekkering, T., Breen, A., Gil del Real, M. T., Hutchinson, A., … & Malmivaara, A. (2006). Chapter 3 European guidelines for the management of acute nonspecific low back pain in primary care. European Spine Journal15, s169-s191.
Wilkey, A., Gregory, M., Byfield, D., & McCarthy, P. W. (2008). A comparison between chiropractic management and pain clinic management for chronic low-back pain in a national health service outpatient clinic. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine14(5), 465-473.

A Healthy Back for Life

Essential everyday tips
Download PDF