Whiplash occurs when the neck is suddenly and forcibly bent backward and forward. This causes injury to the joints of the neck, known as the cervical vertebrae, and to the surrounding soft tissue. The most common causes of whiplash are motor vehicle accidents, especially when the vehicle is struck from the rear.
Whiplash injuries usually happen to a person who is not wearing a seat belt when a motor vehicle is rear-ended. As a result of whiplash, the ligaments in the neck may be stretched or even torn. Sometimes fractures in the vertebrae may also be involved.
Whiplash generally causes:
Whiplash is diagnosed with a complete physical examination and medical history, including details of the accident.
Generally, wearing a seat belt and avoiding motion that causes sudden jerking of the head can prevent this injury.
Time and gentle range of motion exercises are usually the best treatments for whiplash. The healthcare provider may also recommend:
Side effects depend on the medications used, but may include drowsiness, stomach upset, or allergic reactions.
It may take from 2 to 4 weeks before the person regains full range of motion of the neck without pain. The individual may have recurrent headaches. Physical therapy may be needed to help keep the neck muscles strong and healthy.
Author:James Broomfield, MD
Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN