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Whiplash Injury

Updated on March 15, 2014

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a term used to describe neck pain to the soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, and muscles) of the neck. Whiplash is commonly seen in people who have been involved in a car accident or those suffering from a sports injury or fall. Injury to the tissue occurs when the neck is pulled or jerked suddenly out of a person's normal range of motion.

Medical terms for whiplash include: hyperextension injury, cervical strain, and cervical sprain. There are many different causes of whiplash injuries, yet the most commonly associated cause of whiplash is auto accidents. Other causes of whiplash include: blows to the head from contact sport injuries, repetitive stress, and child abuse, especially in children who are forcefully shook.

Did You Know?

Speeds as low as 15 mph can produce enough energy to produce whiplash.

Whiplash Symptoms

The quicker after the injury that symptoms develop, the greater the chance of serious damage.

  • Headache
  • Neck pain & swelling
  • Muscle spasms of the neck
  • Tenderness to the back of the neck
  • Difficulty turning neck side-to-side
  • Shooting pain from the neck into the shoulder or arm

Exams and Tests

If the patient is transported to the emergency room following a car accident, the physcian will assess the patient for the following: level of consciousness, neck tenderness or pain, and any other possible injuries will be assessed at the time of admission.

The spinal cord will be assessed for proper functioning. X-rays may be taken of the neck to check for any fractures or signs of other serious injury.

Recovery at Home

Whiplash can be self treated at home if there are no other serious injuries. Care for a cervical strain focuses on the reduction of pain and swelling. Ice packs can be applied at 15-20 minute intervals to the neck for the first 24 hours. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken for pain relief.

A soft cervical collar may be used to immobilize the neck, yet is not a necessity. It has been found that it is important to perform active range of motion exercises to promote faster healing. Range of motion exercises can be initiated within 72 hours after the injury. Follow-ups can be with a family physician provided there were no serious injuries found upon initial assessment.

Whiplash Prevention

Although it's impossible to predict when, or if, you will be involved in a car accident, some simple preventative measures can be taken to reduce the risk of whiplash injury. The head restraint should be positioned directly behind the head, and should be adjusted according to the needs of each passenger.

Always wear your seatbelt correctly while in a vehicle, and adjust the headrest properly. Headrests placed too low can cause more extensive injuries. Proper placement should be with the top of the headrest even with the tops of your ears and be positioned at no more than two inches from the back of your head. Do not recline the seat back too far and get the headrest out of position, the two inch rule is crucial if an accident occurs.

Whiplash is often associated with sports injuries. Always wear the proper protective equipment while playing sports, especially contact sports like football.

Whiplash Victims

If you are the victim of someone's careless driving, and are suffering from a whiplash injury, you may want to seek the advice of a personal injury or car accident attorney in order to receive the compensation you may rightfully deserve.


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    • johnvilson profile image

      John Vilson 3 years ago from Leeds, UK

      Hello scarlton,

      Great information about making whiplash claims.