People are soft but cars are hard.

I can still remember the pain and anguish from that fateful evening three decades past.  Motor vehicle accidents destroy lives every day.  Even the 'minor fender-bender' can tear or plastically deform soft tissues.  An 8 mph rear-end collision can produce a two g-force deceleration to your vehicle but a five g-force trauma to your head within a quarter second.  [White AA III; Panjabi MM.  Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine.]  Chiropractic care along with exercise rehabilitation helps your body to heal.  But time is critical.  Trauma left untreated may have permanent consequences.

 If you have been injured, please contact Dr. Fredericks at 612-386-0333 immediately.

Emergency appointments are available 365 days per year.

Learn more about auto accident injuries

Adapted from Dr. Zinovy Meyler


Whiplash occurs when the neck and head are suddenly forced backward and then forward, putting the cervical spine through lightning-quick motions and extreme stresses. Most cases of whiplash are caused by car accidents where the person has been rear-ended.  Other potential whiplash causes include sports injuries where extreme acceleration-deceleration forces might be applied to the cervical spine.  Whiplash is medically known as cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) syndrome.

Whiplash Symptoms Can Be Extensive

The most common symptom of whiplash is neck pain, which can range anywhere from mild to pins-and-needles tingling to excruciating.  Other symptoms can include neck stiffness or reduced range of motion, neck instability, shoulder and/or upper back pain, or headache.  There could also be tingling, weakness, or numbness that radiates into the shoulder and/or down the arm.  Whiplash symptoms can be numerous, complicated, long-lasting, and hard to diagnose, which is why they are commonly known as whiplash-associated disorders.  Concurrent injuries may also be symptomatic, such as a stinger, concussion, radiculopathy (pinched nerve with radiating pain into the arm), or shoulder injury.

The Biomechanics of Whiplash

The process of a whiplash injury sustained in a car accident can vary depending on many factors, including the angle of the collision.  Usually the collision happens from behind, resulting in a whiplash injury that can be considered to occur in five general phases:

  1. Car gets hit from behind, which causes the seat to push against the back.  The spine then gets loaded with forces that compress the cervical spine upward against the head.

  2. The torso (in contact with the seat) continues to accelerate forward but the head (not in contact with the seat yet) does not.  As a result, the cervical spine’s natural C-shape (lordosis curve) temporarily becomes an unnatural S-shape.  The abnormal compression and shearing forces can potentially damage intervertebral discs, facet joints, and other neck structures.

  3. Person’s head slams backward into the accelerating seat.  Soft tissues at the front of the neck are likely to be injured here as the neck rapidly extends backward.

  4. The head bounces off the seat and now accelerates forward.

  5. The seatbelt restrains the body (likely preventing a much worse injury) and the neck rapidly flexes as the head whips forward.  Soft tissues at the back of the neck are likely to be injured here.

While the severity of the car crash usually correlates to the severity of the whiplash injury, there are exceptions.  Sometimes a sturdy car does not crunch up and thus shows no significant outside damage, but the forces that were not absorbed by the car exterior were instead transferred through the seat and thus caused worse whiplash.  Also, whiplash injuries have been recorded in incidents where the speed at impact was less than 10 miles per hour.

The Course of Whiplash Pain

Most people who sustain a whiplash injury will completely recover within 3 months, but some studies show a significant number will have chronic pain or other symptoms that linger longer – sometimes for years.  Whiplash symptoms may present at the time of the whiplash injury, or there could be a delay of up to 24 hours before they appear.  Factors that increase risk for a longer whiplash recovery include:

  • Severe pain at time of injury

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Older age

  • Female gender

When Whiplash Is Serious

Anyone who experiences physical symptoms after a motor vehicle accident is advised to see a doctor for a checkup.  Seeking treatment early for whiplash is recommended. Delaying treatment can reduce its effectiveness in some cases.  However, any of the following signs require immediate medical attention:

  • Severe pain

  • Neck instability

  • Pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness that radiates into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand

  • Problems with balance or coordination

  • Mental health issues, such as increased irritability, depression, trouble sleeping, reduced concentration, or other drastic changes in behavior

[Adapted from Dr. Zinovy Meyler]