Whiplash Injury

Whiplash injury

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

ICD-10: S13.4

Alternative Name: Flexion-extension injury.

Whiplash is the common term for acceleration-deceleration forces on the neck which may occur in rear-end or side impact motor vehicle collisions, diving accidents, and/or other mishaps. The forces may result in painful injuries to the muscles, ligaments, and joints of the neck and other spinal areas. However, sometimes they result in no injury or pain at all.

Most whiplash injuries are the result of a collision that includes sudden acceleration or deceleration. Many whiplash injuries occur when a person is involved in a rear-end automobile collision, or as a result of a sports injury, particularly during contact sports.

Whiplash Injury

In a typical case the victim's body is initially pushed or accelerated forward while the head remains behind for an instant, making the head rock up and back, stretching and/or tearing some muscles, tendons and ligaments. The muscles react automatically (reflex motion) to bring the heard forward - sometimes this is overdone and the head may rock forward violently, further stretching and/or tearing muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Most people associate whiplash with one vehicle being hit in the rear by another vehicle - the driver in front sustains the whiplash. However, the impact can come from any direction and the head may move backwards or sideways, not only forwards initially. Whiplash injury may also be sustained in various ways, such as from falling off a bicycle or a horse.

The true incidence of whiplash is difficult to determine, as routine data may not adequately characterize or capture all cases of whiplash injury. Women are more susceptible to whiplash injuries than men; experts believe it is because women's neck muscles are usually not as strong as men's.


The following are the most common symptoms of whiplash. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

    Neck pain.

  • Neck stiffness.

  • Shoulder pain.

  • Low back pain

  • Dizziness.

  • Pain in the arm and/or hand.

  • Numbness in the arm and/or hand.

  • Ringing in ears.

  • Blurred vision.

  • Concentration or memory problems.

  • Irritability.

  • Sleeplessness.

  • Tiredness.


In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for whiplash injury may include the following:

Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan.): A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.


Specific treatment for whiplash injury will be determined by your physician based on:

    Your age, overall health, and medical history.

  • Extent of the injury.

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies.

  • Expectations for the course of the injury.

  • Your opinion and preference.

Treatment options may include:

    Ice applications for the first 24 hours.

  • Cervical collar.

  • Gentle active movement after 24 hours.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).

  • Muscle relaxants.

  • Physical therapy.

You may find some of the following helpful:

    Make sure you have a good posture - keep your shoulders slightly back with your back straight. Try walking `like a model'.

  • Check that your bed pillow gives your neck support, keeping the neck in a straight line with the rest of your back.

  • Some people find that hot or cold presses, especially in the first 48 hours, help them. A hot bath, shower or a hot water bottle held to the neck. If you prefer a cold pack, try putting a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel against your neck for five to 10 minutes.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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