Since I work with lots of different accident victims, I see a wide range of injuries. From an industrial accident that brought on pelvic injuries as well as foot and ankle fractures, to losing an eye from a firecracker, I’ve seen many ways people have been injured. The human body bears the brunt of the chain reaction of consequences that a simple mistake puts in motion.  Because of their ubiquity, speed, and mass, a very common way people are hurt is in motor vehicles. One of the most common injuries in car crashes is whiplash, from one of the most common types of collisions, being rear-ended. Just about everyone is familiar with the term “whiplash” but what is it exactly, what what’s so dangerous about it?


whiplash is a term that describes injury to the neck that occurs as a result of a motor vehicle or car accident. The most common type of car accident is the rear impact, and most typically, the occupant in the vehicle that gets “rear-ended” (hit from behind) is at the greatest risk of injury, including whiplash.

Unfortunately, people complaining about neck pain after a car accident have been met with suspicion. There’s been a stigma about it, a belief that accident victims complain about an injury they might not really have. But technology has given more and more insight into this phenomenon. Most victims aren’t making it up! And the new research has helped doctors and medical care providers understand better how to treat it.

How do I know if I’ve got whiplash? Here are symptoms and conditions common to whiplash:

  • Joint dysfunction. A common result of whiplash is that the limbs or joints lose some resiliency and shock absorption, which can restrict movement and result in pain. If you were hit from behind, or even just went on a roller coaster that jerked you around a little too fast, you might know what I’m talking about here.
  • Disc herniation. Our amazing modern technology can show us where tiny tears appear in the soft tissue between discs in the vertebrae. When the parts of a disc lose their place because of these tears, they can come into contact with nerves. That can bring about a sharp, shooting pain that “refers”, or travels, down the arm, or other places in the body. Sometimes there are neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness.
  • Faulty movement patterns. The nervous system might try to redesign the way it controls the coordinated function of muscles when damage occurs. This can bring about intense pain signals from the point of injury.
  • Chronic pain. Whiplash can result in strains or sprains in the neck area, and overtime, especially if untreated, the pain stays even though the injury is old or “healed”.
  • Cognitive and brain dysfunction. Since the neck is so close to the brain and contains the superhighway of nerves that is the spinal cord, it makes sense that whiplash and other neck injuries can affect the way the brain functions. Difficulty concentrating can result from nerve damage sustained from whiplash.

So how does whiplash occur? It all happens in a split second. Right after impact, the spine is thrown into a very different shape than it’s meant to be in. A healthy, normal spine is bent backward in the lower part, while the upper part bends forward. This can tear lots of tissue, as it’s stretched beyond its ability to move into those shapes so suddenly, and throws the spine out of alignment. Realignment can take many treatments over time to get back into shape. Here’s a video detailing what happens to the neck and body from whiplash after being rear-ended.

If you’ve been injured in a rear-end accident, please don’t brush off your injuries, even if you don’t feel like you really got hurt that badly. Let the medical professionals be the one to assess your body from the inside out. I know a friend who was in a single car crash decades ago in which she was the passenger. As she came to, she found herself sitting on her head, upside down! It wasn’t until years and years later that she sought treatment with a chiropractor for a pain in her upper back, which was traced to injuries in her neck, which likely came about because of the trauma from the car crash. My point is, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion to your own after you’ve been in a car wreck. You might save yourself years of pain.

Bill Coats Law is a personal injury law practice located in downtown Bellingham, Washington. Bill has decades of experience working with accident victims, and knows how to get results. If you’ve been injured in an accident, you’re not alone. Call Bill at 360-303-0601 and talk with him about your case for free.

Recent Article