Why does Whiplash Hurt?

On July 27, 2012, in Chiropractic, How to Treat Neck Pain, by Kelly Golob DC

Car crashes represent one of the most common causes of injury in society today. Most of these crashes occur at low speeds (a.k.a. “fender benders”), but even these low speed collisions result in Whiplash injuries that have serious negative impacts on quality of life.  But why do whiplash injuries hurt so much, and what exactly happens that causes so much pain and disability?

Recently a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy analyzed the presence of Trigger Points (TrP) in people who had suffered a Whiplash injury compared to people who had not.  In this study TrPs were measured in several muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders. Neck ranges of motion and overall pain sensitivity to pressure in different areas of the body were also measured.

The results of this study found that the patients in the Whiplash group had, on average, 7.3 TrPs in the muscles of their head, neck, and shoulders compared with only 1.7 TrPs found in the normal population.  They also found that there were strong links between an increased number of TrPs and an increased sensitivity to pain, as well as a decrease in neck range of motion.

Therefore the authors of this study conclude that Whiplash injuries cause an increase in trigger points in the muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders.  This increase in trigger points is also related to a decreased range of motion in the neck and a widespread increased sensitivity to pain throughout the body. 

So, to prevent Whiplash injuries from developing into chronic life altering conditions, treatments aimed at healing trigger points and maintaining neck range of motion, such as chiropractic adjustments, soft-tissue mobilization, rehabilitative exercises, and massage therapy will provide the best long-term solutions.


  1. Fernández-Pérez AM, Villaverde-Gutiérrez C, Mora-Sánchez A, Alonso-Blanco C, Sterling M, Fernández-de-Las-Peñas C. Muscle trigger points, pressure pain threshold, and cervical range of motion in patients with high level of disability related to acute whiplash injury. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(7):634-41.

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