Whiplash Injury: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Whiplash Injury Our neck is vulnerable to sudden movements, particularly during times of injury to the back. Take road traffic accidents for example. Sudden trauma from the back can result in the head bending forward, followed by a sudden jerk to the back. This type of sudden flexion-extension injury of the neck is what is called as whiplash injury. Here, we shall take a look at this in a bit more detail.

What is Whiplash Injury?

Whiplash injury is typically described as an acceleration-deceleration injury that occurs in road traffic accidents. It is a common injury that forms a large part of insurance claims in accidents these days. The main problem with whiplash is that the symptoms though caused by sudden injury can last a lifetime, limiting patients greatly and causing them a great deal of distress. However, many a time it is believed that claiming ‘whiplash’ following an accident is more of a way to obtain monetary benefit rather than seeking medical attention for a specific purpose of receiving treatment.

What causes Whiplash?

In a nutshell, the sudden acceleration and deceleration that occurs in road traffic accidents can cause extreme flexion and extension of the neck. This hyperflexion-hyperextension injury damages the soft tissues of the cervical spine, causing the pain. There is often no evidence of bone damage.

Whiplash Symptoms

The symptoms can be many and can include neck pain, stiffness, dizziness, arm pains and weakness and visual problems. Patients can feel rather tired most of the time. Back pain is not uncommon. If symptoms last a while, patients can develop depression and even post traumatic stress syndrome.


These days, a clinical diagnosis of ‘whiplash’ is rarely given due to large amount of insurance fraud and the lack of specific symptoms that can aid a diagnosis. Instead, a clinical diagnosis of traumatic neck injury is given instead. X-rays and MRI scans can help identify soft tissue injury and the presence of any fractures or ligament tears.

Whiplash Treatments

There are no specific treatments for whiplash. Cervical collars are not particularly beneficial in the long term; furthermore they are not really practical either. In fact, it is recommended that once all the tests have been done and nay gross injury has not been detected that patients start gentle exercises of the neck. This can help promote healing of the tissues and can over time reduce symptom severity as well. Physical therapists may offer range of motion exercises that can be particularly helpful. Typically, these exercises are performed 10 times a day for the first 4 days after the accident after any major injury has been ruled out.

Patients who develop depression or post traumatic stress disorder may need some form of treatment or counseling to manage this.

Whiplash injury can take a fair while to treat. Patients can expect a full recovery, but in a small number of cases the symptoms may persists causing the patient a great deal of distress.

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