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  • Writer's pictureDr. Keith McGahey

Can You Have Whiplash With No Vehicle Damage?

The short anwer is YES! I've been a Chiropractor for a long time, and I've treated a lot of car crash and whiplash injuries. It's the area of practice I enjoy most, and what I do best. If you've been involved in a car crash and think you have whiplash, it's important to see someone who specializes in this type of injury, even if there wasn't a lot of damage to your vehicle. Don't wait! The decisions you make now could have a significant impact on your future health.


Dr. Keith McGahey has been a Chiropractor in Bellevue, WA for over 25 years. Dr. McGahey has advanced training in whiplash & spinal trauma from the Research Institute of San Diego, and served on the board of the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington. Dr. McGahey has been featured on King 5 News, was nominated for Top Alternative Provider by Seattle Magazine, and received the award for Outstanding Clinical Excellence from Western States University.


Man holding his neck after a whiplash injury from a car crash

If you read my last article, Whiplash Injury Myth #1, you’ll know that relaxing during a car crash is just about the worst thing you can do. Now hopefully you’ll never be involved in a crash, but for the sake of argument let’s say that you are.  You’re sitting a red light minding your own business, and all of a sudden BAM! Your head and neck snap back as you’re struck from behind by another vehicle.

You get out of your car to survey the damage, but all you find is a little scratch on your bumper. You breath a sigh of relief and realize how lucky you are, but two or three days later your neck starts to hurt… a LOT. And people are looking at you funny. There’s no way that little ding on your bumper could have caused a whiplash injury… is there??

No Damage = No Whiplash? No Way!

In my practice, I want to make sure people are well informed, so they can do what’s best for their health. With car crashes, that can mean overcoming some deep-seated ideas. For instance, there is this long-held belief that if you are involved in a car crash and your vehicle sustains little damage, there is no way you could suffer a whiplash injury. But this just isn’t true. In fact, a lack of damage can make things worse. When your car is struck by another, the striking car transfers energy to your vehicle.  If your bumper crumples it can absorb some of that energy. If your bumper remains rigid (undamaged), that energy may be transferred to you instead.

Watch the video below.  It is courtesy of the Spine Research Institute of San Diego, where they have been studying these types of crashes for many years. I recommend you watch it a few times and take note of how quickly the whole thing happens. Watch how quickly and forcefully the driver’s head whips back and forth, and how he appears dazed for a few seconds after the collision.

After watching this video, it’s fairly obvious this poor guy’s head and neck absorb quite a jolt. So what speed did the striking car hit his vehicle at?  What’s your best guess? You might be surprised. Take a look at this next video to see this collision in full view.

One thing to note in the video above, there is no noticeable damage to either vehicle. That’s because the crash occurred at only 7.8 mph! So how can such a slow collision cause such significant forces?

Whiplash Can Occur At Low Speeds

During a rear end collision, the vehicle being struck accelerates forward. If your bumper crumples, it absorbs some of the potentially damaging force of the collision. If it remains intact, your car (and body) shoot forward more quickly, increasing the strain on your neck. The more quickly your body accelerates forward, the more forcefully your neck and head whip backward. Eventually your head has to catch up to the rest of your body (or leave it behind), which causes your neck to whip forward again. All told, this takes place in just a fraction of a second.

Here is the same crash in super slow motion. The first car strikes the second from behind, causing it to accelerate forward. As the driver’s body is pulled forward by his seat, his neck bends back forcefully, and then whips forward again as it catches up to his body. The numbers in this video also tell a story. The first vehicle is traveling at 7.8 mph when contact is made. The vehicle being struck springs forward at 5.8 mph as a result. And this generates 12.7 g of head acceleration. That’s insane!!

You Can Have A Whiplash Injury With Little Or No Vehicle Damage

Here’s a question to consider. Why do people look for broken eggs, even when there’s no visible damage to the carton? It’s because the contents are more fragile than the container. The same can be said for cars and occupants. Sometimes people get hurt in car crashes that leave their vehicles virtually unharmed.

Whiplash Injury Treatment In Bellevue

Don’t let a lack of damage to your vehicle make you downplay an injury. If you’ve had a car crash, get checked out. Whiplash treatment is more effective early on, before your injuries become chronic, and that means less time spent in pain. If you’ve been involved in a car crash and think you may have a whiplash injury, schedule an appointment and let's talk. We can go over your injury history and determine if you're a good candidate for chiropractic treatment.

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