What is whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to the neck that is due to abrupt forward, sideways or backward movements of the head. This often occurs after a sudden impact during a vehicular accident. The vigorous head movement overstretches and damages the ligaments and tendons in the neck.

The tendons are sturdy, fibrous bands that connect muscles to bone. The ligaments are the fibrous connective tissues that link two bones together in a joint. The typical symptoms of whiplash include the following:

  • Tenderness over the neck muscles
  • Neck pain and stiffening
  • Headaches
  • Sore and diminished neck movements

After sustaining an accident, it can take a while for the symptoms to develop. The neck pain and stiffness is often worse on the day after sustaining the injury and might become worse after several days.


Aside from vehicular accidents, whiplash can also be caused by an abrupt blow to the head such as during contact sports particularly rugby or boxing.

What are the causes of whiplash?

Vehicular accidents are the main cause of whiplash. Motorcycles and car accidents often result to whiplash due to the abrupt force during the collision which forces the head to move in a violent manner. The head is flung backwards, frontwards or sideways. Even low speed collisions can also lead to whiplash.

Aside from vehicular accidents, whiplash can also be caused by an abrupt blow to the head such as during contact sports particularly rugby or boxing. Falls or slips in which the head is abruptly and violently jolted backwards can also lead to whiplash.

How whiplash is diagnosed

Whiplash can be readily diagnosed based on the description of the symptoms. Testing and scanning are not usually required. A doctor should be consulted if the individual sustained an abrupt impact on the head that is accompanied by stiffness and pain in the neck.

The imaging tests such as CT scan, X-ray or MRI are usually carried out if a fracture or other problem is suspected.

Management for whiplash

Whiplash usually gets better on its own or after some basic treatment. If an individual has whiplash, it is best to move the neck rather that keep it immobilized using a neck collar or brace.

The neck might be sore but keeping to mobile at an early stage can improve its functionality and hasten the recovery process. Pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to reduce the pain.

If the whiplash lasts for 6 months or more, it is oftentimes called as chronic whiplash or late whiplash syndrome. The treatment must be based on the symptoms. If there is severe pain, the doctor will prescribe a stronger pain medication or even recommend physiotherapy.

What are the possible complications?

In most circumstances, whiplash eventually gets better without triggering any lasting damage. Nevertheless, in some cases, the pain can persist for 6 months or even longer. Once there is prolonged neck pain, it might be difficult for the individual to perform daily activities. This can also trigger issues at work and can even lead to anxiety and depression.

A doctor should be consulted if there is chronic neck pain that causes issues with work as well as disrupting normal daily activities.


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