How to Treat Whiplash After a Car Accident

A car accident can cause trauma that can last for weeks, months, and even years.  You may not immediately have any back pain after a car accident, but to ensure a proper recovery, you must take time to assess how you feel in the days and weeks afterwards.  Although the circumstances vary by each case and each patient, we are going to discuss the three major back problems caused by car accidents.


After the initial whiplash, the muscles try to protect the spine and decrease any more trauma to the area.  With that development, the muscles do not return to their normal length which can cause soreness or discomfort.  After the initial trauma the body tries to compensate to the affected areas which can cause feelings of tightness, loss of motion, and possible tension headaches.


When the muscles tighten at the base of the skull (or the occipital ridge), the muscles shorten.  This can cause pain around the back and sides of the head, which can cause tension headaches and lead to migraines.  Activating trigger points or stretching to elongate the muscles can help alleviate this pain.  Referred pain can vary on each individual but targeting the problem area can help a person cope with frequent migraines.

Tightness in the mid and lower back

After an accident, a person usually makes compensation to their posture without noticing.  Similar to a pebble being dropped in a calm lake, an accident affects the body in a ripple effect.  The pain might start at the neck but they can ripple down the body to the mid-back and low back.

The middle of the spine, the thoracic spine, might feel very tight and even sitting in a chair might feel difficult at times.  With the change of length in the muscles due to tightening, it can feel like your shoulders are ‘locked,’ and rotating side to side can be difficult.  The mid back and the low back (lumbar spine) can also be aggravated after the incident, since an accident can shift the pelvis during impact.  After such big changes, the entire top of your body is being supported by the lumbar spine in a seated position.

What can alleviate these signs and symptoms?  It’s important to follow up with your chiropractor and medical team.  By having a holistic approach from your medical team that comprises of a chiropractor, physical therapist and massage therapist can help address all portions of your body.

Why is a holistic plan beneficial?  By adding three modalities from three different fields, each field can add their own benefits.  For example, a chiropractor specializes on the proper alignment of the bones after the car accident; a massage therapist focuses on the soft tissue that is connected to the bones; and a physical therapist helps the patient strengthen the affected area, which will reduce the risk of re-aggravating the area of injury in the future.  With these three areas working together, not only will it help the patient in the short term, but give them strategies to feel better for years after the accident.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Advanced Spine & Wellness Center for their insight into treating whiplash.