What Is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a condition that refers to an acute sprain or strain of the cervical spine.  Anything that jolts or whips the head forward and backward aggressively or traumatically can result in this condition.

Whiplash can occur from a sports injury, but is most commonly used to describe the resulting injury to the neck from a rear end type motor vehicle accident.


  • How is Whiplash Diagnosed?
  • When to Seek Treatment
  • Differences in Conventional Treatment versus Integrated Treatment
  • Why We Don’t Recommend Foam Collars to Treat Whiplash
  • Acupuncture, Massage, Physical Therapy and Chiropractic Care for Whiplash – Is one better than the other?

Symptom Checker

If you suspect you are suffering from whiplash, check the common symptoms below.

You may notice symptoms right away following an auto collision, but often, symptoms can show up three to five days later.

If you answer yes to the following questions and your symptoms persist for more than 72 hours, we recommend seeking treatment immediately, as symptoms are unlikely to resolve on their own.

  • Have you experienced a traumatic injury?
  • Do you have neck pain? You may experience general neck pain on one side or other sometimes both sides.  You night feel warmth on the skin on one or both sides, which is a sign of swelling in the soft tissue.
  • Are you experiencing pain with movement?  Do you have pain when turning left right or up and down?  If so, it’s likely ligaments have been sprained or muscles strained.

How is Whiplash Diagnosed?

At Team Rehab, we first examine the extent of the traumatic injury.  We evaluate your pain level associated with movement and look for pain when turning the neck right, left, up or down. 

We check for temperature changes and movement patterns to see what’s causing pain and in which direction.

We perform a manual exam using the hands to palpate the joints in the neck to see if there’s swelling. In addition, we can segmentally move the vertebrae to determine if those joints have been sprained or strained and lack movement. This is a very different approach from care you might receive from your primary care physician or local urgent care.

Where Conventional Medicine Falls Short for Whiplash

Care you receive from your primary care physician or urgent care physician will primarily examine the symptoms associated with whiplash and determine pain levels, but will not likely involve a manual hands on type of examination. The traditional medical model simply doesn’t teach manual therapy techniques to examine the musculoskeletal system. Treatment often involves a combination of medication to manage the acute pain and a collar to reduce movement.

Foam Collars May Not Be a Good Long Term Choice for Whiplash…

Neck Collars are a common whiplash treatment method but can actually make the condition worse.

Whiplash is commonly treated using a foam collar to reduce movement in the neck, but may not be the best choice to restore function and reduce pain. Using a foam collar results in outcomes similar to casting a sprained ankle for weeks. A cast prevents movement and allows the tissue to heal, but when removed, the person is left with a dysfunctional stiff ankle. A foam collar is similar. It may take weight bearing pressure off of the neck but when you stop using it creates stiffness and can make the condition worse.  Movement actually becomes more difficult if you immobilize it in a collar.

What imaging tests are used to diagnose whiplash?

Whiplash is considered a soft tissue injury, meaning an injury to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and perhaps joint capsules. These soft tissues, if they have been injured can’t been diagnosed with x-ray because x-ray only shows bone and structure.

What Does Whiplash Treatment Do?  What are the goals of treatment?

Whiplash treatment should target gentle movement, stretching, and mobilization techniques to address lingering pain and restore movement, function, and range of motion. A visit to your primary care physician or urgent care will likely result in medication and an immobilzation collar, which can often make symptoms worse. An immobilization collar reduces movement, which can actually create lingering pain and stiffness in the neck.

Are there exercises you should avoid to treat whiplash?

Depending on certain conditions, there are movements you may want to avoid.  It’s important not to self diagnose if you’ve been experiencing whiplash symptoms for more than 72 hours. A professional is your best best to evaluate your specific condition and provide recommendations regarding exercises that may help or harm.

Acupuncture for Whiplash

Acupuncture is widely used to treat many conditions, including whiplash. Acupuncture opens up meridians of energy in the body to increase circulation, blood flow and allow the body to self heal. While acupuncture can be useful as a tool in the toolkit to for whiplash treatment, in and of itself it won’t restore joint motion and play. 

Massage for Whiplash

Massage can be beneficial for those suffering from whiplash related symptoms. Massage relieves muscular pain, increases blood flow and circulation and loosen tight, swollen muscles. It can also increase oxygen and nutrients to the tissue, helping to speed recovery.

Similar to acupuncture, however, it isn’t enough by itself to functionally restore movement.

Physical Therapy for Whiplash

Physical therapy is certainly beneficial for whiplash treatment. Physical therapy may use a combination of heat, ultrasound, massage, stretching, and exercises to stretch and strengthen the neck. Unfortunately, most traditional physical therapy clinics won’t address restoring joint mechanics, or mobility, which chiropractic care can address.

Chiropractic Care for Whiplash

Chiropractic care for whiplash related conditions will address joint mechanics and mobility but will fall short because it’s not comprehensive and will not address the soft tissue strengthening and stretching exercises physical therapy provides to that needs to accompany healing.w Chiropractic care will not use modalities like ultrasound that bring blood flow and healing to the area and won’t use sufficient massage..

Each therapy has it’s own limitations on how it can help, but at Team Rehab you don’t have to choose because we integrate acupuncture, massage, physical therapy and chiropractic care into each appointment. If you are in the greater Portland metro and would like to schedule an appointment, contact us below.

Related Resources:

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urgent care for car accidents

Urgent care centers have been popping up all over the country and for good reason.  It’s easy to make an appointment or walk in, the wait times are significantly less than an emergency room visit, and they provide access to healthcare when your primary care physician is unavailable. 

But if you’ve been injured in a car accident, urgent care may not be your best choice.  Can you go to urgent care for car accident injuries? Yes, but the care you receive will not be enough to put you on the road to a full recovery.  

In this blog post, we cover the differences between urgent care vs emergency room care after an auto accident and what type of doctor you should see following a car accident.

Should You Go To Urgent Care After a Car Accident?

Urgent care for car accidents may seem like the obvious choice with low wait times and convenient locations, but you’re unlikely to receive more than a cursory evaluation.  Rarely does urgent care refer for therapy services or provide more comprehensive diagnostics, x-rays, etc. Treatment for car accident related conditions like whiplash often includes a superficial evaluation, immobilization collar, and medication for short term relief.

Emergency room care differ significantly from urgent care.  In the emergency room, doctors will address the most devastating traumatic component of the injury you have.  If you are taken by ambulance, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a serious injury such as a spinal cord injury, concussion, whiplash, heady injury or fracture. 

What About Emergency Room Car Following an Auto Accident?

While the emergency room will deal more in depth with that traumatic injury that requires immediate care, your treatment won’t provide a lot of direction and guidance for next steps.  And if you don’t have a primary care physician, you are often left wondering what your next course of action should be to deal with lingering aches, pains, and loss of function.

What Kind of Doctor Should I See After a Car Accident?

We always recommend patients seek treatment as soon as possible. Often, symptoms occur immediately and worsen over the course of a week, but there are times where symptoms don’t appear for a few days following an auto injury. Early intervention can lessen the impact of the severity of symptoms.

Injuries sustained in a vehicle accident require an integrated comprehensive treatment approach to address the acute injuries that occur from a traumatic injury. 

Seek a specialist

At Team Rehab, we are the only truly integrated rehabilitative center in Portland to offer access to chiropractic care, physical therapy, therapeutic massage and acupuncture in the same visit. We also have a medical doctor on staff that helps manage medications when necessary.   We specialize in auto related injuries so this really is our area of expertise.

Worried about insurance or out of pocket expenses? Did you know that you may have access to 15k worth of benefit through your auto insurance. Learn more >

personal injury protection PIP benefit oregon

Document, Document, Document

It’s important to document that you’ve been injured.  All of your documentation will support a medical legal case if that applies to your specific situation.  Documenting injury and the need for treatment is actually quite a specialty and most doctors will not be savvy in how to supportively document this on behalf of the patient. 

Financially, we’ve seen many cases where urgent care for car accidents has billed the health insurance, instead of accessing the PIP benefit through auto insurance. Urgent care will not help establish a claim with your auto insurance.

Need legal help? We recommend contacting Oliveros Law Group. The attorneys at Oliveros Law group understand that you are dealing with more than just medical bills and car repair. Their team helps clients ensure medial bills are covered and minimize the headaches of dealing with insurance companies.

Are You In The Portland, Oregon Area? Team Rehab Offers:

  • Same Day Appointments
  • Integrated Care
  • Advanced Evaluation with Chiropractor and Physical Therapist Consulting Together
  • Medical Doctor Onsite For Consultations and Medication Management
  • Flexible Scheduling Options
  • 3 Convenient Locations serving Portland, Clackamas, and Tualatin
  • Help with Insurance (we accept most insurance)

Contact Our Team Of Experts

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personal injury protection PIP benefit oregon

Did you know that if you’ve been injured in an auto related accident that you likely have access to a personal injury protection (PIP) benefit? This benefit is covered through your auto insurance and can unlock a range of services needed to help you heal and recover from your injuries.

Most patients don’t realize that their care is billed through their auto insurance, NOT their health insurance.  

What Does My Oregon Personal Injury Protection Cover?

Auto insurance coverage will cover any rehabilitation services necessary to help you recover.  This would include:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Chiropractic
  • Therapeutic Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Medical
  • Diagnostics (X-rays, etc)

How Can I Use My Benefit?

To use this benefit, complete a personal injury protection form through your insurance company or agent. Many insurance companies have these forms available to you online.   You can also find the forms at the DMV. 

As part of our service to patients, we help you obtain and complete your application.

What If The Accident Was My Fault?

This coverage can help pay for post-accident treatment regardless of who caused the crash or was at fault.

Related Resources

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physical therapy vs chirpractor which is better

Chiropractor vs physical therapist? Which strategy will help you heal faster, eliminate pain, and recover more completely? It’s one of the most common questions we are asked at Team Rehab and the answer is, well, a bit tricky. Read on to learn:

  • why chiropractic care alone can leave you with lingering aches and pain,
  • answers to top faq’s about chiropractor vs physical therapist care, and
  • misconceptions about physical therapy that are preventing you from seeking care NOW.

Misconceptions About Physical Therapy

  1. People still feel like they have to get a referral to get a physical therapist – this actually hasn’t been the case for decades. You do NOT need a referral for physical therapy.
  2. I can’t get physical therapy because I haven’t been injured.  Even if you randomly develop pain in your body for any reason at all, you can see a physical therapist.

FAQs – Chiropractor vs Physical Therapy

What is the difference between a physical therapist and a chiropractor?

are physical therapists and chiropractors able to do the same things

There’s a lingering misconception that physical therapists are not actual doctors, but that’s simply not true. Both physical therapists and chiropractors are doctors.

The biggest difference between seeking treatment from a chiropractor vs physical therapist is the approach to treatment.

Chiropractic care shines when treating structural issues that involve the skeleton. Imbalances can occur from chronic overuse, acute injury, lifestyle factors or trauma from workplace injuries or a car accident. When the skeletal structure is out of alignment the body is not able to properly heal.

Physical therapy is recommended when soft tissue is involved, whether it be muscle tension, tightness, swelling, or weakness. When this occurs, manual therapy techniques, mobilization, massage, and prescriptive exercises can be used to heal the body.

Our Team Rehab centers are the only centers in the greater Portland area that combines both of these methods when evaluating and creating individualized treatment plans for our patients.

We have both a physical therapist AND chiropractor present TOGETHER during your evaluation and consultation of your recommended treatment.

Is physical therapy better than chiropractic care?

is physical therapy better than chiropractic care?

In over 30 years of experience, we’ve never seen a soft tissue injury that doesn’t have an underlying structural joint condition or dysfunction issue. And we’ve never seen a structural issue that isn’t affect the health of soft tissue.

Bottom line, both of these can impact and contribute to pain and overall dysfunction. Over and over, we’ve seen patients that received either chiropractic treatment alone or physical therapy alone that are just not getting better. This occurs because both the skeletal and soft tissue problems aren’t being addressed together.

Combining both of these treatments at the same time greatly increases the chances of proper skeletal alignment, soft tissue recovery, and elimination of pain.

Can physical therapists and chiropractors work together?

Yes! In fact, we’ve seen the best outcomes and the greatest chance of full recovery increase when both physical therapists and chiropractors work together.

Sometimes receiving just chiropractic care means the soft tissue weakness isn’t addressed and with physical therapy alone structural issues aren’t addressed. The two work synergistically. At Team Rehab, during your consultation, we make sure that both one of our chiropractors and physical therapists are present at the same time during your evaluation to recommend a comprehensive treatment plan. We also have a medical doctor onsite that can evaluate pain and help manage medication for patients.

Can physical therapists perform manipulation like chiropractors?

Yes. Each state has licensing rules and regulations that guide what is in the scope of practice for physical therapists. In the state of Oregon, for example, a physical therapists can perform manipulations similar to chiropractic adjustments. There might be differences in technique and style.

Did you know that the word adjustment is a chiropractic term that was coined decades ago? You might not know that other doctors, such as doctors of osteopathy, naturopaths, physical therapists can perform manipulations or use that type of technique.

How Does My Health Insurance Treat a Chiropractor vs Physical Therapist?

Everyone’s health insurance benefit coverage varies plan to plan. But we’ve found 9 out of 10 people have both chiropractic benefits as well as physical therapy benefits. Many people are surprised to learn that health insurance covers chiropractic care and almost always covers physical therapy because it falls under the traditional medical model of treatment.

In addition, many people have massage and acupuncture benefits that they aren’t aware of.

Additional Resources:

Your Comprehensive Guide to Chiropractic Care Following an Accident
Who Pays For Care? Understand Your Personal Injury Benefit Protection

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