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Whiplash vs. Concussion: What’s the Difference?

Written by Tom Crosley
Nov 18, 2020 Car Accidents, Personal Injury
  1. 1. Whiplash and Concussions Can Have Similar Symptoms
  2. 2. Can I Suffer Whiplash and Concussion During the Same Accident?
  3. 3. What Should I Do if I Suspect I Have Whiplash or a Concussion?
  4. 4. Crosley Law: San Antonio’s Trusted Car Accident Lawyers

Whiplash vs. Concussion

Concussions and whiplash are two of the most common injuries during a car accident. Many of the symptoms of the two conditions overlap, including headache, neck pain, and concentration and memory problems. Since these injuries can appear similar, how do you get a clear diagnosis and the treatment you need?

At Crosley Law, we’ve handled many personal injury claims involving soft tissue injuries (like whiplash) and traumatic brain injuries (like a concussion). In this article, we explain both conditions’ symptoms, how they’re diagnosed, and what you should do if you’re living with whiplash or concussion after a car wreck.

Whiplash and Concussions Can Have Similar Symptoms

During a car crash, fall, or another traumatic event, your body experiences many forces, like acceleration-deceleration and torque. These forces can damage your body, especially your head and neck. For this reason, whiplash and concussion are two of the most common (and least understood) diagnoses after a motor vehicle accident.

Whiplash and concussions are very different conditions, but they can present very similarly. For example, people with either whiplash or a concussion may experience:

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Balance issues and dizziness
  • Fatigue and sleep disturbance

For most people, acute whiplash and concussion also have the same recovery time, which is about four weeks.

Now, let’s explore the differences between the two conditions.

What Is Whiplash?

When your head forcefully whips back and forth, you can hyperextend the muscles and ligaments in your neck, causing whiplash. This type of injury is most common after read-end collisions, but it can occur during any type of crash.

In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, whiplash is associated with:

  • Stiffness in your neck
  • Neck pain that worsens with movement
  • Upper back pain
  • Soreness and pain in your shoulders, upper back, and arms
  • Numbness or tingling in your shoulders or arms

While most people’s whiplash goes away with time, rest, and medication, some people develop chronic whiplash-associated disorder (WAD), which can last for years after their initial neck injury. Symptoms of WAD include chronic pain in the neck and back, limited range of motion, depression, and anxiety. Unfortunately, about 50% of people with whiplash never fully recover, and 30% are significantly disabled.

RELATED: Neck Pain After a Crash Doesn’t Always Mean Whiplash

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions occur when you strike your head or it jerks back and forth violently, stretching and damaging your brain’s tissues and causing a chemical imbalance. While some people report loss of consciousness or feeling dazed after suffering a concussion, many people do not experience these symptoms.

In addition to headache, memory loss, poor concentration, and dizziness, your concussion symptoms may include:

  • Personality and mood changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Nausea and vomiting

For most people, concussions resolve within a short period. However, some people develop post-concussion syndrome (PCS), where their symptoms last for months or years after a car crash or traumatic event. At least 30% of concussion victims develop PCS.

Can I Suffer Whiplash and Concussion During the Same Accident?

Yes. When you’re in a car crash, forces like acceleration and deceleration can damage your neck’s soft tissues while at the same time harming your brain’s nerves and blood vessels. A 2015 study notes that when the human body endures 60–160g of acceleration or deceleration, a person can suffer a mild traumatic brain injury. In comparison, whiplash can happen with as little as 4.5g of force. So, a car crash that causes a head injury is very likely to also result in whiplash.

Researchers have also suggested that because concussions and whiplash often involve similar symptoms, the presence of an untreated whiplash injury may contribute to post-concussion syndrome. However, there hasn’t been much research about the connection between whiplash and concussions to date.

RELATED: Crosley Law Helps a Mother Care for Her Family After a Crash

What Should I Do if I Suspect I Have Whiplash or a Concussion?

See a Doctor

Whether you have a concussion, whiplash, or both conditions, you should seek medical treatment. While you may assume that your mild TBI or neck pain will quickly go away, your symptoms may be a sign of a more serious injury. Prompt medical care may be able to help you make a fuller recovery, even if your injury is “just” a concussion or whiplash.

Additionally, your doctors’ notes will become powerful evidence if you decide to file personal injury claims. When you see a medical provider, they should document your symptoms, explain what caused them, track your recovery, and assess your ability to work and perform daily tasks. Your car crash attorney can then use this information to link your injuries to the crash and calculate your damages.

Consult a Car Accident Lawyer

When someone else’s negligence causes your mild TBI or neck injury, you have the right to demand compensation. However, whiplash and concussion injury claims can be complicated. Doctors still have a lot to learn about both conditions, and some insurance companies are skeptical of any claim involving whiplash or a mild traumatic brain injury.

One of the reasons for this skepticism is that diagnostic tests, like MRIs and CT scans, don’t always document whiplash and concussions. Because your imaging studies look “normal,” the insurance company can say you’re exaggerating your symptoms or that you’re not really injured.

To fight back, you’ll need help from an experienced personal injury lawyer who understands the nuances of a whiplash or concussion claim. At Crosley Law, we’ve helped many people get the compensation they deserve for their brain and neck injuries. Our lawyers use cutting-edge techniques to document the ways that your whiplash or concussion has impacted your life and connect your injuries to your car crash.

Plus, there’s no risk when you schedule a case evaluation with Crosley Law. We always offer free consultations, and we won’t charge you a fee unless we recover a settlement or jury award on your behalf.

Be Patient and Determined

Everyone’s body responds differently to trauma. If you have certain risk factors, your recovery from whiplash or a concussion might take longer than someone else’s. Be kind to yourself and respect your body’s healing process.

However, don’t give up. Work with your team of doctors, physical therapists, and other specialists to give yourself the best possible chance of a full recovery. People with neck and head injuries can still improve months and even years after the injury, especially if they get the care they need.

Crosley Law: San Antonio’s Trusted Car Accident Lawyers

Crosley Law serves crash victims and other injured people in San Antonio and throughout Texas. We use sophisticated, cutting-edge litigation tactics, consult with respected experts, and give our clients the time, information, and compassion they deserve. We’ve recovered hundreds of millions for car wreck victims and their loved ones, and we want to help you too.

If you or someone you love suffered a brain or neck injury due to someone else’s negligence, you can schedule a free consultation and case evaluation by calling us at 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 or by using our online form.


Elkin, B., Elliott, J., & Siegmund, G. (2016, September 30). Whiplash injury or concussion? A possible biomechanical explanation for concussion symptoms in some individuals following a rear-end collision. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.jospt.org/doi/10.2519/jospt.2016.7049

Marshall, C., Vernon, H., Leddy, J., & Baldwin, B. (2015, June 17). The role of the cervical spine in post-concussion syndrome. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00913847.2015.1064301

Sharp, D.J., & Jenkins, P.O. (2015, May 14). Concussion is confusing us all. Practical Neurology, vol15(3),172-186. doi:10.1136/practneurol-2015-001170. Retrieved from https://pn.bmj.com/content/15/3/172.full

Sterling, M. (2011). Whiplash-associated disorder: musculoskeletal pain and related clinical findings. The Journal of manual & manipulative therapy19(4), 194–200. https://doi.org/10.1179/106698111X13129729551949

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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