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Whiplash FAQs

1. What are the most common symptoms of whiplash?

2. How long does a typical whiplash injury take to heal?

3. What's the best way to treat a whiplash injury?

4. What are the risk factors for long-term injury from a rear-end collision?

5. Can a low speed collision (less than 12 mph) result in injury?


1. What are the most common symptoms of whiplash?

There are some symptoms that are present in nearly every case of whiplash. The following is a list of the ten most-reported symptoms, with their estimated prevalence: 

  • Neck pain (92-97%)
  • Headache (97%)
  • Shoulder pain (65%)
  • Fatigue (56%)
  • Anxiety (55%)
  • Back pain (42%)
  • Pain between the shoulder blades (42%) 
  • Depression (41%)
  • Sleep disturbance (39%)
  • Visual symptoms (21-35%)
  • Upper limb paraesthesia (33%)
  • Sensitivity to noise (29%)
  • Difficulty concentrating (26%)
  • Dizziness (15-23%)
  • Forgetfulness (15%)                          
  • Irritability (21%)                                     
  • Difficulty swallowing (16%)                     
  • Upper limb pain (12%)                                          
  • Upper limb weakness (6%)                        
  • Ringing in the ears (4%)                            
  • Pain in the jaw or face (4%)

2. How long does a typical whiplash injury take to heal?

It depends. First of all, there is no such thing as a typical whiplash injury. There are so many different variables (see risk factors, below) involved in a collision that it's not uncommon for two people to be in the same vehicle, and suffer different degrees of injury. Therefore, the healing time also varies greatly. Some people who have experienced a rear-end collision may suffer symptoms for just a few hours. Most people seem to recover in around six weeks. But the medical literature consistently shows that a significant percentage of people -- around one out of three experience some kind of long-term symptoms after a crash.

3. What's the best way to treat a whiplash injury?

It depends on the severity of the injury and the patient's needs. Very few whiplash injuries require surgical treatment or a hospital stay, but many whiplash patients go the emergency room as their first treatment, especially if the collision was severe. Drugs are often prescribed for whiplash patients, and they can be useful for short-term relief of pain. Long-term use of medications, however, can lead to dependency, and they drugs themselves do not help the injured tissues heal. The key to long-term health of the soft-tissues after injury is mobilization of the affected areas. This is best accomplished with spinal manipulation and muscular therapy, either alone or in combination.

4. What are the risk factors for long-term injury from a rear-end collision?

There are hundreds of them. A recent engineering study attempted to predict which variables would result in injury in their test occupants exposed to low speed crashes. Even when taking into account 18 different measurable factors, their predictions were only 70% accurate. Over the past twenty years, researchers have compiled a list of factors and variables believed to influence the risk of injury:

  • The angle of the collision.
  • The speed and size of the vehicles involved.
  • Road conditions.
  • Occupant head position.
  • Gender. Women are more likely to be injured than are men.
  • Occupant awareness. An occupant who is aware of the impending impact is less likely to suffer long-term consequences, as they have time to "brace" themselves for the impact, lessening the severity of injury to the soft-tissues of the neck.
  • The proper use of head restraints.
  • Safety belts. Some researchers have suggested that seatbelts may increase the risk of injury in rear-end collision. (NOTE: Seat belts save many lives each year, and the potential life-saving ability of seatbelts far outweighs the slight risk of increased injury during a "minor" collision. You should always wear your seatbelt.)
  • Secondary collisions.
  • Direct body impact.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Medical history. Pre-existing health conditions can increase the risk of injury.
  • Pain onset. Generally, when symptoms appear immediately after the collision, healing takes longer.

5. Can a low speed collision (less than 12 mph) result in injury?

Yes. Nearly all engineers refuse to conduct rear-end test collisions over 5 mph because of the possibility of injury to the test occupants. For many years in the scientific community, it was believed that injury was impossible in low speed collisions below 12 miles per hour, since the typical motion of the head seen during a higher speed collision did not occur. In the last few years, however, a whole new body of literature has shown that the cervical spine may actually be more at risk from a low speed collision than from a higher speed collision.

Call us now at (416) 633-3000 for an appointment to help you recover from your injuries.

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