Osteopathy for Whiplash

treating whiplash with osteopathy

Whiplash is the most common injury arising from car crashes. In most cases the person is wearing a seatbelt so is not thrown forward. However while your body is fixed in place by the seatbelt, the head and neck are free to move and the impact causes your head to be thrown forward. It is then thrown backwards by its own recoil. The whole body is affected by a whiplash injury, not just the neck, and unless these strains are treated, they may persist for years.

What is Whiplash Injury?

In most cases of whiplash injury, there is stretching or tearing of the muscles in the back of the neck. The resulting symptoms can include severe neck pain, jaw pain, headache and low back pain. In more serious cases, there may be fractures to the vertebrae, tearing of discs or ligaments, and even tearing of the oesophagus or trachea (this is due to hyperextension of the neck and is less likely in cars with a head restraint). Some people may also suffer from dizziness, visual disturbances, and pain or pins & needles in the arms. If you experience any of these more serious symptoms you should inform your GP or seek medical help.

Common findings after whiplash accidents include:

  • Neck: Sprain or stretching of the neck muscles and ligaments. This often causes persistent neck pain and headaches, and may eventually lead to arthritis.
  • Low back: The sacrum or the coccyx (tail bone) at the base of the spine may become compressed into the pelvis, leaving it rigid and immobile. This is one of the most important dysfunctions and it needs to be released in the treatment of any whiplash injury, because it can disturb the function of the whole spine.
  • Rib Cage: Twisting and compression through the rib cage from the seat belt restraint. Common problems in this area resulting from whiplash injuries are shoulder pain, indigestion, heartburn, gall bladder problems, and chest complaints such as pain or asthma.

In 10% of cases, the pain of a whiplash injury may persist for months or even years. And there may be cognitive deficits such as impaired memory and poor concentration and attention. These are thought to result from the fatigue caused by chronic pain.

Self-Help for Whiplash Sufferers

If you are unlucky enough to have suffered a whiplash there are some things you can do to aid your recovery.

  • Gentle stretching of the neck, by pulling the head to one side and then the other, may help to relieve muscle spasm in the neck.
  • You can also roll your neck slowly in a semi-circular movement to one side, then down and then to the other side.
  • In the early stages you can use ice (a small bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) to reduce inflammation. If pain persists after a few weeks, you might want to try heat.

If you have had a whiplash injury and your symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, or if they are getting worse you should seek treatment. In any car accident, even at relatively low speeds, the body is subjected to sudden deceleration forces, and can be thrown around violently. These stresses may get locked into the body and their effects may be felt as tensions in the soft tissues. Unfortunately the long wait for treatment which often follows an insurance claim may lead to worsening of the condition.

Remember early treatment of a whiplash injury will help your symptoms to resolve quickly, and reduce the likelihood of pain persisting for years afterwards.


While modern cars have head restraints which act as a break to the backward movement, they must be adjusted to the correct height in order to work properly. So although it is not possible to prevent car accidents, you can ensure that you minimise injuries due to whiplash by adjusting your headrest so that it is as close as possible to the back of your head and as high as the top of your head.