What Does Whiplash Feel Like?

Jun 9, 2021

If you’ve ever been in a rear-end collision or suffered a fall, you may know the feeling of whiplash. The condition occurs when a vehicle collides with your car, usually from behind, the inertia causes your head to move forward at an unnatural speed before jerking backward as the car abruptly stops. Your head may slam into a surface along the way. This unnatural motion stretches the tissues in your neck past their limit, leading to damage and neck pain known as whiplash.

If you’re not sure whether this happened, you may hesitate to visit a whiplash chiropractor. Use this guide to understand what you would feel if whiplash occurred and what to do about the symptoms.

In the Immediate Aftermath of Your Accident

As soon as your car stops moving and you recognize you have been in an accident, you may notice symptoms of injuries, including whiplash. Neck pain or a headache can come on suddenly, though you are more likely to notice immediate injuries like bleeding or broken bones. If you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, you may even notice your body is physically moved from its initial seat, or that your head hit against a hard surface during movement.

However, it’s extremely common to feel perfectly normal at this moment. Your body may be in shock at the incident, or adrenaline may allow you to push through any injuries and move about as if you are unharmed. This can allow you to manage the conversations and processes necessary on the site of the accident but does not mean you are in the clear.

The hours and days after your accident will be important for you to monitor for symptoms. In either case, you should set up an appointment with a whiplash chiropractor so they can evaluate you for damage and rule out other serious injuries to the spine or neck. As the adrenaline wears off, you may slowly begin to assess your body and notice something feels off.

What You’ll Feel

The most common symptoms of whiplash are pain and stiffness in the neck due to the muscles and tendons being overstretched or even torn. This is known as soft tissue damage and may impact the neck and the shoulders. Your body may react to this strain by swelling and becoming inflamed, which can increase the feeling of stiffness and make it difficult to turn or move your neck.

A decreased range of motion may also be accompanied by your muscles feeling tender or knotted. Headaches are common, especially if the brain was jolted during movement. You may also notice blurred vision, dizziness, fatigue, or trouble sleeping related to whiplash. Whiplash shares a number of symptoms and causes with concussions, so monitoring for behavior changes, loss of consciousness, or cognitive trouble will be important as well.

Another uncommon symptom is a tingling or “pins and needles” feeling that radiates down your arms and into your fingers. This is likely to occur in more severe cases of whiplash where nerves in the neck and spine have been disturbed. The feeling can also occur in the neck or shoulders and is similar to the feeling of a limb “falling asleep.”

Diagnosing and Treating Whiplash

If you suspect you have suffered this injury, a whiplash chiropractor will be able to formally diagnose your injury, determine the severity, and develop a plan for treatment. Most of the time, a description of your accident and symptoms is enough to conclude that whiplash is present. However, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and some quick tests of reflexes and motion in order to confirm. If they need to rule out other, more severe injuries, you may also be sent for diagnostic imaging. MRIs, CT scans, and x-rays do not display whiplash, but they can help eliminate other options for the cause of your pain.

Most cases of whiplash fully resolve in a matter of months. Symptoms can be managed through traditional at-home remedies like over-the-counter pain medication, heat and ice therapy, and rest. You may imagine wearing a neck brace, but this is actually not recommended anymore, as gentle movement helps you to regain strength in your neck. A whiplash chiropractor may work with physical therapists to help facilitate this movement, focusing on stretching and rotating the neck.

At AICA Snellville, our whiplash chiropractors work with an integrated team of care providers to develop treatment plans unique to your injury. We focus on returning your body to full health and mobility after a whiplash diagnosis. Contact us today to schedule your first appointment