Apex Performance Centre

Whiplash: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Whiplash Causes

What Is Whiplash?

Whiplash is the quick jarring movement of the neck and the rest of the thorax, causing sprain and strain to the ligaments, muscles and joints in the neck. As the inflammation sets in the neck will start to feel sore and stiff as the musculature tenses up to try and splint the area. Severity is classified according to the symptoms experienced.

A whiplash involving neurological symptoms (tingling, numbness, weakness) is  classified as being of high severity as opposed to  one causing only musculoskeletal pain. Whiplash can affect all the structures of the neck including joint capsules, muscle, ligaments, disc, dura and nerves. The most common kinds of whiplash injury we see at the Apex Centre are from car accidents and sports injuries, typically hockey.

Whiplash Causes


Whiplash  is caused by either a forward or backward jerking movement of the head, typically as a result of a car accident or being slammed into the boards in hockey or any other situation that results in sudden acceleration of the body — the classic whip, where the body precedes the head, exerting high amounts of torque on the neck. Less commonly known, you can also get whiplash from a fall onto your back or tailbone as that jarring motion is transferred up the spine to the head.


The most common symptom is neck stiffness and tenderness to the touch immediately following the trauma as the musculature tenses up to try and splint the area. Delayed symptoms are also common. Headaches and tingling or numbness in the neck or arm(s) may be felt.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Pain, soreness or stiffness in the neck
  • Headaches
  • Pain in or between the shoulders
  • Numbness or pain in the hands and arms
  • Dizziness or light headedness
  • A fuzzy feeling in the head, and inability to focus or concentrate

Since whiplash is usually a soft-tissue type injury, it cannot be diagnosed with X-rays. More commonly, the symptoms taken with the type of injury will account for the diagnosis. Magnetic resonance imaging may help with a better picture of soft tissue injuries.

Whiplash Symptoms


How long whiplash symptoms persist and how well they can be treated depends on severity of the injury. Because whiplash injuries can be severe, proper assessment and treatment guided by a health professional is imperative. If  nerves are affected the condition will typically last longer and the individual may be more sensitive to pain.  In addition, there may be instability in the neck which could compromise the spinal cord if left undiagnosed.

How Apex Can Help

If you believe you have suffered whiplash it is very important you be checked  by a health professional. Our physiotherapists, massage therapists and chiropractor can help assess the integrity of the neck to ensure there is no serious trauma. Our chiropractor specializes in concussion testing and concussion management which often coexist with whiplash.

Our physiotherapists also have training in vestibular rehabilitation which will help recalibrate the system so visual, vestibular and sensory systems can work coherently. Other therapies we offer, such as trigger point therapy and acupuncture, can help calm the tissues, relieve any neurological symptoms and diminish headaches. Our biofeedback system  can help retrain the deep stabilizing muscles to engage quickly and improve their body awareness.

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