What are the long-term effects of untreated whiplash?

What are the long-term effects of untreated whiplash?

Whiplash is often seen as a minor injury following a car accident or fender-bender, but it is actually much more serious than people think. It is important to seek out professional care immediately after experiencing symptoms of whiplash or being involved in an automobile accident, because the long-term effects of untreated whiplash can have a serious, negative health impact.

Picture this–you’re in a car accident and although you don’t see any visible injuries, a day later you start to get a neck twinge. You decide it’s probably just a sore neck and decide to rest, but don’t seek any professional treatment. The neck pain gets worse day after day until it’s debilitating, and your condition is much worse that the initial pain and injury of whiplash.

Regarding medical care and recovery, one size does not fit all, and rest alone may not be enough to recover from whiplash. Each treatment plan and recovery period depend on the severity of the whiplash injury, which is why seeing a professional to diagnose and care for your whiplash is so important.

So, What Is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a soft tissue neck injury resulting from forceful, rapid back-and-forth neck movement, imitating the cracking of a whip–which is where the injury gets its name. Whiplash occurs most-often during rear-end auto accidents, but the injury can also result from playing sports, physical abuse, or other neck or head trauma.

Common symptoms of whiplash include neck stiffness, soreness, pain, and recurring headaches. If you begin to feel soreness in your neck and shoulders, or pain in your back, it may be a sign of Whiplash. Most people with whiplash get better within a few weeks by following a physician-approved treatment plan. However; if left untreated, some people have chronic neck pain and other long-lasting complications that can seriously affect their health, work, and day-to-day lives.

Whiplash is a common result of auto accidents and chiropractors and physical therapists are trained to treat it. In car accidents, the force of the vehicle that hit you may have also misaligned your spine causing extreme pain or soreness in your neck and back. It may also surprise you to learn that physical injuries such as blunt trauma to the head from sports (such as football, boxing, and other physically intensive or combative sports) can cause whiplash as well. Whiplash can even result from jerking neck movement and intensive neck strain. If your work involves awkward neck movement or abrupt head or neck alignment changes, you are more prone to getting injured from whiplash.

But I Feel Alright

Adrenaline and shock can mask pain during and immediately after a car accident or physical injury, so whiplash symptoms should not be ignored in the days to weeks following an accident. Musculoskeletal injuries, including whiplash, often show symptoms days or even weeks after a car crash. When dealing with whiplash symptoms, it’s important to consult with a physical therapist or chiropractor as soon as possible. Even if you are not currently exhibiting symptoms after being in a car accident, you should still be seen by a certified chiropractor or physical therapist to check for possible injuries and prevent chronic pain or complications down the road.

Long-term Effects Of Untreated Whiplash

Untreated whiplash can lead to serious, negative health conditions and long-term pain. Torn or overextended muscles and tendons in the neck can limit range of motion and place pressure and stress on the neck, shoulders, head, and spine. In fact, according to a study published in the medical journal Neurology, 7.8% of study participants “had not returned to [their] usual level of activity or work” after one year due to whiplash injury symptoms like pain and stiffness. In addition to neck and head injuries, whiplash can affect the brainstem and spine as well.

Additionally, the injury can lead to other, more serious conditions such as:

  • Chronic Neck Pain and Soreness
  • Stiffness and Long-term Mobility Issues
  • Vertigo
  • Chronic Headaches
  • Vertebrae Misalignment
  • Degenerative Disc disease

These symptoms can turn into full-blown health conditions if not properly treated in a timely manner. Each case of whiplash injury is different and requires specific care, but the advice to sufferers is the same–seek professional care, or risk injuring yourself even further.

Chronic Pain

Untreated whiplash poses an increased risk for chronic pain and soreness, long after the injury or car accident occurs. Torn or stressed neck muscles and ligaments require careful treatment and take time to repair correctly. Over-exerting these muscles and ligaments can make matters worse, causing chronic pain, soreness, and difficulty performing regular tasks or movements.

While most whiplash patients see improvement in their condition within several weeks or months of the injury, for those that do not seek treatment, chronic pain and discomfort can persist for several months and even years after sustaining the injury.

Mobility Issues

Pain and stiffness from whiplash or a neck injury can cause loss of mobility that prevents you from being able to perform your work duties or common daily tasks. Inflammation and swelling in the neck, upper back, and head muscles, which can make it very difficult to move those sensitive areas or fully turn or crane the neck or head.

If left untreated, neck pain can progress and cause secondary conditions such as headaches, migraines and shoulder pain that radiates into other areas of the body. Chiropractors and physical therapists provide integrated therapies for shoulder and neck symptoms of whiplash from car accident and other injuries, such as chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, rehabilitation exercises, and more options depending on the degree and location of the pain.


Vertigo is a condition where a person feels like they are falling or spinning in a still environment, and in many cases, they will also get dizzy or feel faint. Vertigo and other imbalance sensations can not only make you feel queasy or sick, but they can also cause you to lose your balance and fall, making them serious health hazards. Vertigo and dizziness are reported in between 25–50% of noted whiplash cases,

Neck injuries can cause misalignment in the cervical spine and result in many cases of non-vestibular dizziness. Whiplash from car accidents is also infamous for resulting in a complication known as cervicogenic dizziness. Cervicogenic dizziness is often caused by whiplash or other injury or pain to the neck and results in a sensation of disequilibrium. Chiropractic care or physical therapy adjustments on the upper cervical spine can provide relief for vertigo suffers


Headaches, including Cervicogenic headaches, are common after whiplash injury, with pain radiating from the neck to the forehead and back or sides of the head. Chronic headaches and radiating pain or pain occurring at the base of the skull may flare up immediately after whiplash or in the days to weeks afterwards and can become worse without treatment.

Neck pain may radiate through the back, upper shoulders, head, and vertebrae, causing pain and soreness that trigger debilitating headaches or migraines. Headaches that persist for several months after sustaining a whiplash injury are usually attributed to that injury and usually require medication and physical adjustments or treatments to resolve. A blow to or sudden movement of the head which causes neck strain and whiplash can also result in a concussion. Neurological symptoms can arise as a result of untreated whiplash or a concussion, such as weakness, difficulty talking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and excessive tiredness.

Vertebrae Misalignment

Whiplash often causes the uppermost vertebrae in the neck to move out of proper spinal alignment, limiting an individual’s range of motion, inciting damage to these vertebrae, and even skewing normal posture. The atlas (C1) and axis (C2) vertebrae form the joint connecting the skull and spine, and misalignment of these upper two vertebrae inhibits normal communication from the brain to the body’s central nervous system.

These vital communication signals that move between the brain and the body can be negatively impacted or even impaired by vertebrae misalignment, especially since the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) vertebrae have the widest range of motion and are the most vulnerable to whiplash motion injury.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Untreated whiplash can have serious long-term effects, even contributing to Degenerative Disc Disease–a condition that occurs when discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column deteriorate or break down, leading to pain, weakness, and numbness.

Severe whiplash may tear fine muscles in the neck or upper back and contribute to the dislocation or herniation of the upper cervical spine. The trauma from untreated whiplash can trigger symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease that previously went unnoticed, such as upper back and lower neck pain, difficulty in stretching or moving the back, and less flexibility and resilience to day-to-day wear and tear. Discs between spinal vertebrae usually act as shock absorbers and help flex and bend the back, but with Degenerative Disc Disease, these discs are worn down and offer less protection from injury and movement.

Treat Whiplash Immediately

A Physical Therapist or Chiropractor can perform an exam to recognize the signs and symptoms of whiplash and create an individualized treatment plan for your recovery, usually involving some combination of pain medication and targeted exercise. The goal of whiplash treatment is to control existing pain, restore normal range of motion in your neck and injuries areas, and get you back to an active, normal state.

At RxWellness, experienced physical therapists and chiropractors conduct thorough medical evaluations and x-rays to make sure a pressing medical emergency isn’t at the heart of your problem. Don’t take chances with your health, make an appointment with RxWellness or contact us today at 703.904.9666 or visit us in person at 950 Herndon Parkway, Suite 130, Herndon, VA 20171.

See Also

What Should I Do For Whiplash After A Car Accident?

Can you go to the Urgent Care for Whiplash?

6 Delayed Accident Symptoms

5 Reasons to Have Physical Therapy After A Car Accident


Tags: #Untreated Whiplash,

19 thoughts on “What are the long-term effects of untreated whiplash?
  • Michael Treloar
    December 4, 2019 at 6:29 am

    the facts have been discussed is really important. Thank you so much for sharing a great post.

  • Eileen Benson
    January 8, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    It was helpful when you talked about how neck muscles and ligaments that are torn from whiplash need specific conditions to heal correctly. My husband and I were in a minor car accident earlier this week where the other driver rear-ended us. I’m glad I read your article and learned why getting professional whiplash treatment would be worth the cost!

  • Sheena Moran
    January 16, 2020 at 9:21 pm

    I got checked out, was told I dont have a whip lash after getting hit. But I have head aches, a bit sick to my stomach, and my ears hurt. Is this common?

    • RxWellness Administrator
      January 20, 2020 at 5:18 pm

      Those are signs of either whiplash and possibly a concussion. You should get checked out by a chiropractor near you specializing in Personal Injury as they are the experts on whiplash.

  • Derek McDoogle
    March 5, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    I never took into account that whiplash can lead to vertigo, headaches, and neck pain. My cousin had an accident a few days ago and he decided not to go to the doctor because he was feeling well but now, he says that he gets dizzy sometimes. I will recommend him to visit a chiropractor so he can get treatment as soon as possible.

  • Victoria Jones
    March 25, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing this great piece of information with the readers and making people aware of whiplash and its long term effects. I would like to share this post with my friends too. Keep educating the readers with your valuable knowledge.

  • auto crash treatment
    May 1, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    I was involved in a minor car accident and developed a driving phobia. The problem is that I lost confidence in myself and the people around me used it against as tho am a careless driver. I am not really over it but atleast am trying.i mostly drive with another driver beside me. I’ll stop when I get the confidence to do it alone. All am saying is your not alone we can always share our experiences.

  • Kris L
    May 24, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    I was in fridge and hurriedly rose up and slammed back of head into freezer door which was open. I fell to the ground with excruciating pain. I had a good bump on my head. Ever since then,(3 months), I have pain in my neck and shoulders. Could it be whiplash? No headaches, no pain down arms.

    • RxWellness Administrator
      May 26, 2020 at 2:34 pm

      We would recommend to make sure there was no head trauma with your general practitioner, but if you have been given the all clear, it is possible you could have whiplash or another type of spinal misalignment that happened from impact. If you are in the Northern Virginia or Washington D.C. please schedule an appointment with us at one of our three clinics! If you do not definitely find a top rated chiropractor in your area and seek out chiropractic treatment!

  • Arrius lion
    July 27, 2020 at 9:36 am

    Wow! Great Blog. I really just love it and Thanks for sharing such a great blog and with great information

    • RxWellness Administrator
      August 6, 2020 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks for reading! Glad that our untreated whiplash blog helped you!

  • Deborah Goodman
    August 6, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    Thatnks for this info. My story isn’t a good one, but telling.
    23 Years ago, I was 42, extremely active and in excellent shape, no illnesses, etc.
    A truck (not a commercial one..like a Ford 1400 high off the ground and huge_did
    not hear the ambulance. I stopped, and he did not and all that happened was my head
    whipped back and hit the headrest. It hurt in one spot but no big deal and no damage to the car.
    The next am I could not lift my head off the pillow. I went to a chiropractor for six months, but it
    was not enough.My career, and all exercise ceased. Although the whip lash went away, 6 years later my neck needed a cervical fusion and the surgeon damaged the c56 root. My life has been taken away since then. After. 20 hours of dental surgery. 14 months ago, every muscle, lig, nerves in my neck c1 c2 instability,constant pain and pressure, have had modulation and four rounds of prolotherapy, which has helped very very slowly. Base of skull, traps, scaps, everywhere.Disabling. Is there any hope it will calm down like the first whip lash did? Im ok with not being to do things, but ot this constant vascular choking and imobility and pain. I do not have a neurologist anymore..they do not help. I am getting an MRI but I don’t think I could handle a surgery. I live in the northern LA county region if you have any recommendations. Thank you for reading.

    • RxWellness Administrator
      August 24, 2020 at 1:42 pm

      We are so sorry that you are experiencing so much pain for so long Deborah! We have patients in our office who seek treatment for over a year depending on the severity of the accident. Every person’s body heals differently. We also utilize physical therapy alongside chiropractic care for whiplash. Chiropractic care corrects the spinal structure, but physical therapy helps strengthens the muscles around the corrected spine so that it will hold. Our doctors would suggest to seek out a reputable chiropractor in your area who specializes in treating whiplash through natural therapies and chiropractic care. We wish you well and hope that you will be able to find healing in your future.

  • Chris Pederson
    October 12, 2020 at 9:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing how untreated neck pain from whiplash can leave long-lasting complications. My wife’s neck has been hurting her a lot recently after she got rear-ended. She wants to blow it off but I’ll share this article with her and hopefully she’ll go get a neck pain treatment.

  • Arrius lion
    November 24, 2020 at 8:09 am

    I was rear ended about a month ago I been going to chiropractor and now need an mri cause i feel my neck is hurting more everyday…I was sitting in traffic hit by a kid doing about 45mph…I thought I was ok till 2 days later…

    • RxWellness Administrator
      November 24, 2020 at 2:34 pm

      Sorry to hear about your neck! It’s important to go to the ER first to make sure there are no broken bones or other complications. After a visit to the ER we definitely recommend finding a qualified chiropractor who specializes in auto injuries like whiplash. Here at RxWellness Spine & Health we also use digital X-Ray to double check for broken bones and to see where exactly the soft tissue injury is before proceeding with treatment. Best of luck on your healing journey!

  • Accident Lawyers Northern Ireland
    November 30, 2020 at 9:32 am

    Whiplashes are common in a car accident, Keep posting such informative contents online.

  • Rachel
    December 1, 2020 at 10:32 am

    i have not been able to sleep since my whiplash accident.Is this coming from the shock of it too.!

    • RxWellness Administrator
      December 1, 2020 at 7:47 pm

      It’s quite possible! We’d recommend to schedule an examination with one of our chiropractors or a chiropractor near you that specializes in treating whiplash!


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