Whiplash Injury: A Pain in the Neck

Whiplash is a neck injury that happens when there is a forceful and rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck; this back-and-forth motion is like the cracking of a whip hence the name. Whiplash is common, with upwards of 3 million Americans reporting to the emergency room with complaints of whiplash each year. Females are usually more susceptible than males to get whiplash; researchers attribute this to women having smaller neck bones than men amongst other things. Symptoms of whiplash can be either acute or chronic. Acute symptoms tend to leave within a few weeks; however, chronic symptoms can last for months to even years after injury. Pain from whiplash causes almost 300,000 Americans to become disabled.


Common causes of whiplash include rear-ended car collisions, sports accidents, physical abuse, and other traumas like falls. Rear-ended car collisions are usually the most common cause of whiplash. The structures involved in whiplash injury include the muscles of the neck, the intervertebral discs, the nerves in the neck, as well as tendons.


Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  1. Neck pain and stiffness
  2. Reduced range of motion of the neck
  3. Fatigue
  4. Pain that becomes worse when the neck is moved
  5. Dizziness
  6. Numbness and tingling in the arms and hands
  7. Tenderness and pain in the shoulders, upper back, and arms
  8. A headache that starts at the base of the skull.


There can also be less common symptoms of whiplash, like:

  1. Difficulty concentrating
  2. Blurred vision
  3. Irritability
  4. Depression
  5. Sleep disturbance
  6. Ringing in the ears.

If one is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should report to their doctor to get a diagnosis. They should not prolong seeing a doctor, as symptoms may get worse. They should also report to the doctor if any new symptoms emerge. A doctor or clinician will diagnosis whiplash injury during a physical exam. They may also use imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to confirm if the injury is whiplash.

Some factors can make it more likely for one to have a poor outcome when healing from a whiplash injury. These risk factors include having a previous whiplash injury, being older, having existing lower back pain or neck pain, and being in a high-speed collision.

Lastly, people with whiplash should take into consideration these tips to help them recover quickly:

  1. Don’t wear a cervical collar for an extended time
  2. Utilize icing or a cold pack
  3. Incorporate gentle movements of the neck
  4. Don’t wait long after injury before getting a medical evaluation or seeking professional medical help
  5. Contact your health care provider about new or worsening symptoms.


Remember that the health of your neck should not be taken for granted. Do what is necessary to ensure that your spine is in good repair and remains pain-free instead of pain-ful for years to come.


Please be advised that the information above is not a substitute for medical advice. You should seek the council of your primary hare physician or other appropriate health care provider concerning any medical condition you may have.

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