Whiplash

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Whiplash facts

  • Whiplash is a relatively common injury that is often ignored or mistreated due to lack of understanding of the condition.
  • Whiplash is usually the result of a rear impact while in a stationary position.
  • Early range of motion and exercises lead to a more rapid recovery than prolonged immobilization or use of a cervical collar.
  • Failure to properly educate and treat patients with whiplash can lead to chronic psychosocial symptoms including depression and anxiety.

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a relatively common injury that occurs to a person's neck following a sudden acceleration-deceleration force that causes unrestrained, rapid forward and backward movement of the head and neck, most commonly from motor vehicle accidents. The term "whiplash" was first used in 1928. The term "railway spine" was used to describe a similar condition that was common in persons involved in train accidents prior to 1928. The term "whiplash injury" describes damage to both the bone structures and soft tissues, while "whiplash associated disorders" describes a more severe and chronic condition.

Fortunately, whiplash is typically not a life threatening injury, but it can lead to a prolonged period of partial disability. There are significant economic expenses related to whiplash that can reach 30 billion dollars a year in the United States, including:

  • medical care,
  • disability,
  • sick leave,
  • lost productivity, and
  • litigation.

While most people involved in minor motor vehicle accidents recover quickly without any chronic symptoms, some continue to experience symptoms for years after the injury. This wide variation in symptoms after relatively minor injuries has led some to suggest that, in many cases, whiplash is not so much a real physiologic injury, but that symptoms are more created as a result of potential economic gain. Many clinical studies have investigated this issue. Unfortunately, while there will always be people willing to attempt to mislead the system for personal gain, whiplash is a real condition with real symptoms.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/7/2014

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