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Whiplash Injury

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by the neck bending forcibly forward and then backward, or vice versa. The injury, which is poorly understood, usually involves the muscles, discs, nerves, and tendons in the neck.

What causes whiplash?

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.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

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

  • Neck pain

  • Neck stiffness

  • Dizziness

  • Ringing in ears

  • Blurred vision

  • Concentration or memory problems

  • Irritability

  • Sleeplessness

  • Tiredness

The symptoms of whiplash may resemble other conditions and medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is whiplash diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for whiplash may include the following (as many whiplash injuries include damage to soft tissue that can't be seen on X-rays):

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) 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). This diagnostic procedure uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and soft tissue structures within the body.

What is the treatment for whiplash?

Specific treatment for whiplash will be determined by your doctor 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 or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Ice applications for the first 24 hours

  • Cervical collar, with limited use (less than 3 hours at a time) 

  • Gentle, active movement after 24 hours

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications

  • Muscle relaxing medications

  • Physical therapy

Online Medical Reviewer: Bellendir, Trina, MSPT, CLT
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 10/28/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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