How long does whiplash last after a car accident?

You’ve just gotten off from work and you fumble around in your purse for your keys on your way to the car. Unlock the door, climbing in, buckle up and start the car. You decide to skip the freeway today because you’re tired of fighting stop-and-go traffic on the way home. Besides, it seems like there’s always an accident anyway.

Taking the side streets, you hear an ad for a local grocery store and realize there’s a couple of things you need to pick up for that awesome dinner you’ve been thinking about since the weekend. No worries! You’ll stop at the store down the road.

As you’re slowing down to stop for a light about to turn red. You’re mind flashes to your child’s school bus sign. Slow at Yellow. Stop at Red.  You’re just about to come to a complete stop, first at the line, but the person behind you didn’t have a similar thought. He/she slam into you from behind, causing your car to go through the intersection and roll to a stop on the side, taking you completely by surprise!

It doesn’t matter if you’re a driver or a passenger in a vehicle, you’re incredibly likely to be involved in an accident at some point in your life.

Whiplash is a relatively common injury and often received from riding in a car that is struck from behind or that collides with another object.  When the head is suddenly jerked back and forth beyond its normal limits, the muscles and ligaments supporting the head neck and spine can be stretched or torn.  The soft pulpy discs between the spine can bulge, tear or rupture. Vertebrae can be forced out of their normal position, reducing range of motion and even though the car may have received little damage, the occupants can suffer serious spinal and cervical injuries.  But what are the symptoms, and how long does whiplash last after a car accident?


Keep in mind, the body has a robust ability to adapt so symptoms may not appear until weeks or even months later. If symptoms do appear, the resulting instability of the spine and soft tissues can give rise to:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Pain in the shoulders
  • Arms and hands
  • Reduced pain free range of motion
  • And low back problems

How long does whiplash last after a car accident?

The duration of the symptoms of a whiplash injury varies greatly from person to person. The majority of whiplash injuries heal within 6 weeks after the injury. However, approximately 33% of people who had a whiplash injury reported continued neck pain after 10 years. Unfortunately some sufferers have symptoms for the rest of their lives.

Level of pain can be an indication of whiplash recovery duration.

The level of pain directly after the whiplash injury felt within the first 3 weeks has been found to be a good indication of whether or not, and how well a person will recover; someone that reports severe pain could have significantly less chance of recovering fully. Those that are older aged, or in poor health, or have preexisting conditions, such as neck pain, arthritis in the neck, and headaches, generally have a worse prognosis and longer recovery times.  These unfortunate people more often suffer long-term effects from a whiplash injury.  However, of all individuals with deceased movement of their neck after the injury, up to 75% are still suffering from the affects a full year later.  What’s worse is that cervical instability due to these neck injuries increases your risk of re-injury in the future.

Can I improve my chances of full recovery?

Consult a Doctor of Chiropractic before depending upon addictive pain medication, enduring constant whiplash-related headaches or submitting to surgery.  With conservative care and proper treatment the effects of a collision can be mitigated.  While it may take time and can sometimes require your attention and effort, the commitment that you make to yourself now can pay dividends later. Correcting the problem early is the best strategy in becoming healthy again. To a large part your efforts and commitment will determine how long recovery takes and to what extent you can recover.  The individual that is serious about getting better tends to do better than the person that lets other things get in the way. Vacations and family commitments may seem important in the moment but setting “yourself” and your recovery as a high priority strengthens your chances of recovering fully and in a timely manner.

The chiropractic approach to these types of injuries is to use specific chiropractic adjustments to help regularize spinal function.  After a thorough case history and examination, the doctor will recommend a series of visits for your plan of care to help restore proper motion and position of spinal bones.  If caught early enough inflammation can be reduced and scar tissue can often be minimized.