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Whiplash

Whiplash Facts

  • Whiplash is a nonmedical term used to describe neck pain following an injury to the soft tissues of the neck (specifically ligaments, tendons, and muscles).
  • It is caused by an abnormal motion or force applied to the neck that causes movement beyond the neck's normal range of motion. It is usually caused by a flexion-extension motion of the neck that pulls and strains the neck muscles and ligaments.
    • Whiplash happens in motor vehicle accidents, sporting activities, accidental falls, and assault.
    • Synonyms for whiplash include acceleration flexion-extension neck injury and soft tissue cervical hyperextension injury. A doctor may use the more specific terms of cervical sprain, cervical strain, or hyperextension injury.

Whiplash Causes

The most frequent cause of whiplash is a car accident. The speed of the cars involved in the accident or the amount of physical damage to the car may not relate to the intensity of neck injury; speeds as low as 15 miles per hour can produce enough energy to cause whiplash in occupants, even when they wear seat belts.

  • Other common causes of whiplash include contact sport injuries and blows to the head from a falling object or being assaulted.
  • Strains of the neck from sudden changes in direction, for example, roller coasters, minor bicycle accidents, or slips and falls can all cause whiplash.
  • Repetitive stress injuries or chronic strain involving the neck (such as using the neck to hold the telephone) are common, non-acute causes.
  • Child abuse, particularly the shaking of a child, can also result in this injury as well as in more serious injuries to the child's brain or spinal cord.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/25/2016

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