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.

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