What are the long-term effects of untreated whiplash?

What are the long-term effects of untreated whiplash?

Whiplash after a car accident 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. You want to avoid the long-term effects of untreated whiplash.

So, What Is Whiplash?

So what does whiplash mean? 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 order to help you avoid long-term effects of untreated whiplash. 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, or you may experience long-term effects of untreated whiplash.

Long-term Effects Of Untreated Whiplash

Untreated whiplash can lead to serious, negative health conditions and long-term pain. You can even experience whiplash pain after 6 months or more. 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. Whiplash symptoms long term can really take away from your everyday life.

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

  • Chronic Neck Pain From Whiplash 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 | Long-term effects of untreated whiplash

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. Remember, we do not want you to experience the long-term effects of untreated whiplash!

Treat Whiplash with RxWellness Spine & Health

Look no further than RxWellness for a whiplash chiropractor near me. We understand the debilitating effects of long term effects of untreated whiplash and are committed to providing comprehensive care to help you recover and regain optimal health. Our team of experienced physical therapists and chiropractors specializes in diagnosing and treating whiplash injuries with a holistic approach that addresses the root cause of your discomfort.

When you visit a RxWellness Spine & Health for whiplash treatment near you, you can expect a thorough evaluation to assess the extent of your injury and determine the most effective course of action. Our state-of-the-art facility is equipped with advanced imaging technology, including x-rays, to ensure accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment planning tailored to your unique needs.

One of the key services we offer for whiplash treatment is chiropractic care. Our skilled chiropractors utilize gentle spinal adjustments to realign the vertebrae in your neck and spine, relieving pressure on the affected nerves and promoting healing. Chiropractic adjustments are a safe and effective way to alleviate pain, restore proper joint function, and improve overall mobility.

In addition to chiropractic care, our team may incorporate physical therapy into your treatment plan to address muscle imbalances, strengthen supporting muscles, and improve flexibility and range of motion. Physical therapy exercises and stretches can help rehabilitate injured tissues, reduce inflammation, and prevent future injuries.

At RxWellness Spine & Health, we believe in taking a multidisciplinary approach to whiplash treatment, which may also include massage therapy to alleviate muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation. Our licensed massage therapists are skilled in various massage techniques, including deep tissue massage, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy, to address specific areas of pain and discomfort. We want to help you avoid experiencing whiplash pain years later.

At RxWellness Spine & Health, we prioritize patient education and empowerment, equipping you with the knowledge and tools you need to actively participate in your recovery journey. We take the time to thoroughly explain your condition, treatment options, and self-care strategies, empowering you to make informed decisions about your health and well-being.

In addition to our comprehensive in-office services, RxWellness Spine & Health also offers telehealth appointments for virtual consultations and follow-up care, providing convenient access to our expert providers from the comfort of your own home.

Don’t let whiplash pain hold you back from living life to the fullest. Contact RxWellness Spine & Health today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards a pain-free future. With our integrated approach to whiplash treatment, you can trust that you’re in good hands with RxWellness Spine & Health.

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 one of our convenient locations in the DMV.

FAQs On Untreated Whiplash:

  1. Can whiplash cause problems years later? Yes, whiplash can lead to long-term complications, with symptoms potentially manifesting years after the initial injury.

  2. What is whiplash? Whiplash is a neck injury caused by a sudden backward and forward movement of the head, often occurring in car accidents.

  3. What to do for whiplash? Seek medical attention, follow prescribed treatments such as rest, ice, physical therapy, and pain management techniques.

  4. Can whiplash cause degenerative disc disease? Yes, whiplash can contribute to degenerative disc disease due to the strain placed on the spinal discs during the injury.

  5. Can you go to urgent care for whiplash? Yes, urgent care can provide immediate evaluation and treatment for whiplash injuries.

  6. Should I go to the hospital for whiplash? Hospital visits for whiplash depend on the severity of symptoms; serious cases may require emergency room evaluation.

  7. Should I go to the ER for whiplash? If experiencing severe symptoms like loss of consciousness or neurological deficits, going to the ER is recommended.

  8. What does whiplash feel like? Whiplash symptoms can include neck pain, stiffness, headaches, dizziness, and sometimes radiating pain to the shoulders or arms.

  9. What to do after whiplash from a car accident? Seek medical attention promptly, follow treatment recommendations, and consider legal and insurance matters if applicable.

  10. Can whiplash cause neurological problems? Yes, whiplash can lead to neurological issues such as headaches, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms.

  11. Can whiplash get worse over time? Yes, untreated or improperly managed whiplash injuries may worsen over time, leading to chronic pain and complications.

  12. Can whiplash come back years later? Yes, symptoms of whiplash can reappear or worsen years after the initial injury due to underlying damage.

  13. Whiplash from a car accident, what to do? Seek medical attention immediately, document the incident, and follow up with healthcare professionals for proper treatment.

  14. Where to go for whiplash? Visit urgent care, a primary care physician, or a specialized clinic for evaluation and treatment of whiplash injuries.

  15. How long does whiplash last? Whiplash symptoms typically improve within a few weeks to months with proper treatment, but severe cases may last longer.

  16. Is whiplash permanent? While most cases of whiplash resolve with time and treatment, some individuals may experience long-term effects or chronic pain.

  17. What can whiplash cause? Whiplash can cause a range of symptoms including neck pain, stiffness, headaches, dizziness, and potential neurological problems.

  18. What are the common symptoms of whiplash? Common symptoms include neck pain, stiffness, headaches, dizziness, and sometimes radiating pain to the shoulders or arms.

  19. How long do whiplash symptoms typically last? Whiplash symptoms typically improve within a few weeks to months with proper treatment, although severe cases may persist longer.

  20. Can untreated whiplash lead to long-term complications? Yes, untreated whiplash can result in chronic pain, reduced mobility, and potentially lead to degenerative changes in the spine.

  21. What are the long-term effects of whiplash on the upper back? Long-term effects may include chronic upper back pain, reduced range of motion, and potentially degenerative changes in the spine.

  22. Are there delayed symptoms of whiplash that may appear years later? Yes, delayed symptoms such as chronic pain, headaches, and neurological issues can manifest years after the initial whiplash injury.

  23. How can you differentiate between neck pain from an old whiplash injury and other causes? A thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional, including imaging studies if necessary, can help differentiate between various causes of neck pain.

  24. What signs indicate potential nerve damage from whiplash? Signs of potential nerve damage include numbness, tingling, weakness, or radiating pain into the arms or hands.

  25. Is urgent care necessary for immediate treatment after a whiplash injury? Urgent care can provide immediate evaluation and treatment, especially for moderate to severe whiplash injuries.

  26. Can untreated whiplash symptoms resurface or worsen years later? Yes, untreated whiplash symptoms may resurface or worsen over time, potentially leading to chronic pain and complications.

  27. What are the potential complications of leaving whiplash untreated? Complications of untreated whiplash may include chronic pain, reduced mobility, and degenerative changes in the spine.

  28. Should I seek medical attention if I experience a flare-up of whiplash symptoms? Yes, it’s advisable to seek medical attention for any worsening or recurrence of whiplash symptoms to ensure proper evaluation and treatment.

  29. Are there long-term effects of whiplash even after 10 or 20 years? Yes, some individuals may experience long-term effects such as chronic pain or reduced mobility even decades after the initial injury.

  30. How dangerous can whiplash be if not treated promptly? Untreated whiplash can lead to chronic pain, decreased quality of life, and potential long-term complications affecting the spine and nervous system.


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