Dizziness or Vertigo After a Car Accident: Could Whiplash be the Culprit?

Vertigo is the medical term used to describe what we refer to as dizziness in everyday language. This is a state of feeling off-center or unbalanced and many people describe it as feeling your head swirl or spin which makes it difficult to hold your balance. Dizziness is associated with stumbling and falling since the mind becomes disoriented and it can be difficult to remain upright and on your feet.

Relationship Between Whiplash and Vertigo

For years, studies have been probing into the relationship between whiplash and vertigo. Whiplash involves injury or strain to the neck and spine from a forceful back and forth motion, often experienced in car accidents. It is common to just associate whiplash with stiffness and pain in the neck, but it can actually affect all attached joints, muscles, ligaments and nerves including those in the head and shoulders. Thus, the occurrence of dizziness or vertigo from whiplash.

Many people with whiplash do experience dizziness and scientists have been busy creating studies to explore this connection. In 1998, a study reported in the American Journal of Otology (1) discovered that the vertigo experienced by car accident victims was very different from other groups of people suffering from vertigo caused by other medical conditions.

This study compared patients suffering from dizziness or vertigo from whiplash with patients suffering from vertigo caused by a central nervous system disorder or Meniere’s disease and healthy individuals with no vertigo at all. The results found that only the patients within the whiplash category showed signs of posture control system interference coming from the cervical spine (located in the neck).

This showed that dizziness or vertigo from whiplash patients is quite different from the vertigo others experience as symptoms of other medical conditions. It proved that the dizziness suffered in whiplash patients is caused by the whiplash distress in the neck.

Studies like this continue to be performed as scientists try to find out more about the dizziness many people experience while going through whiplash. What is known is that whiplash symptoms often include a mix of vertigo, headaches, and sensitivity to noise. Patients who suffer from one or more of these symptoms are likely suffering from side effects of trauma to the neck and spine.

Treatment Options

There isn’t much you can do about dizziness or vertigo from whiplash. You have to be very consistent with your physical therapy appointments in order to heal the injuries to the neck and spine which are causing the vertigo to begin with. For some people regular therapeutic manipulations can bring fast relief to symptoms such as dizziness, but for some people with more significant damage it may take more time to heal and overcome symptoms.

If you or someone you love is experiencing vertigo or dizziness after an accident or while suffering from whiplash to any extent, it is important to be seen by a physical therapist and/or medical doctor. There are therapeutic manipulations that can help relieve the vertigo as well as other symptoms that may be interfering with daily life.

(1) Tjell C, Rosenhall U. Smooth pursuit neck torsion test: a specific test for cervical dizziness. The American Journal of Otology 1998;19:76-81
This article is considered general information only; please consult a medical professional concerning your specific condition.