The Science of Whiplash

Whiplash is a type of neck injury that occurs as a result of fast and vigorous movement of the neck. It is most occurs after a person has been involved in a car accident. However, many people also experience whiplash while playing sports or during some other type of traumatic accident. Whiplash may also know known as a neck sprain or neck strain.


People who experience whiplash will usually being to feel some degree or pain and stiffness right after the trauma or accident. It may also take a few days for pain and stiffness to be felt. It is also common for people to experience fatigue, blurred vision, and back pain. People usually make a full recovery within about six weeks after the accident. However, it make take some people a year to see the pain and stiffness symptoms subside. Less than 20 percent of people still have symptoms 18 months after their injury. Research shows that people who develop symptoms right after an accident are more likely to have problems from whiplash that last longer. 

The signs and symptoms of whiplash usually develop within 24 hours of the injury. The signs and symptoms may include neck pain and stiffness, worsening of pain with neck movement, loss of range of motion in the neck, headaches (which usually start at the base of the skull), tenderness or pain in shoulder, upper back or arms, tingling or numbness in the arms, fatigue, and dizziness. These are the most common signs and symptoms. It is also possible for people to experience blurred vision, ringing in the ears (also known as tinnitus), sleep disturbances, irritability, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and depression.

What causes whiplash? Whiplash occurs when a person's head and neck is vigorously and quickly thrown backward and forward. This can cause injury to the muscles, nerves of the neck, ligaments, bones in the spine, and disks between the bones. It is most common for people to experience whiplash when they have been in a car accident (a rear-end collision is the most common type of car accident to cause whiplash), have been physically abused or assaulted, or have been involved in a sports injury (i.e. football or rugby tackle, or any direct-contact collision during other aggressive sports).

Treatment for whiplash usually includes pain and anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxers, wearing a cervical collar (also known as a neck brace), physical therapy, or heat therapy.