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Whiplash Injury: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment and Complications

Feb 7, 2024

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Causes Of Whiplash Injury

Symptoms Of Whiplash Injury

Risk Factors Of Whiplash Injury

Diagnosis Of Whiplash Injury


Imaging tests

Treatment Of Whiplash Injury

Pain Management


Foam collars

Complications Of Whiplash Injury

Whiplash Injury

Whiplash is a type of neck injury that can be brought on by a forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, similar to a whip snap.

Whiplash is often caused by rear-end car crashes. Whiplash can also result from physical abuse, sports-related accidents, and other traumas including falls. While the terms "sprain" and "strain" also refer to other types of neck injuries, whiplash is different from them.

Most people with whiplash recover in a few weeks when they follow a therapy regimen that includes both pain medication and exercise. On the other hand, some people live with ongoing issues, such as neck pain.

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Causes Of Whiplash Injury

Whiplash typically arises from a forceful, rapid toss of the head back and then forward. This motion may cause damage to the muscles, discs between the bones, nerves, cervical ligaments, and other tissues.

A whiplash injury may result from:

  • Auto accidents: Rear-end crashes are a common source of Whipple injuries.
  • Physical abuse or assault: If you are hit or startled, you might suffer from whiplash. It is one of the scars linked to shaken baby syndrome.
  • Sports in which players make contact: Football tackles and other sports-related incidents can sometimes cause whiplash.

Also Read : Forensic Autopsy: Types, Incisions & Techniques

Symptoms Of Whiplash Injury

Days after the injury, the following are examples of whiplash symptoms and indicators that may manifest:

  • Stiffness and pain in the neck 
  • Uncomfortable to move the neck
  • Decrease of the neck's range of motion
  • Headaches often originate at the base of the skull.
  • Arms, upper back, or soreness in the shoulders
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms
  • Feeling fatigued and dizzy

Furthermore, a few people have:

  • Blurred vision
  • Ear ringing, or tinnitus 
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Intolerance
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Memory problems
  • Depressive States

Also Read: Skull Fracture: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Risk Factors Of Whiplash Injury

The following risk factors have been linked to an adverse outcome:

  • Having gone through whiplash before, 
  • Older age 
  • Experiencing a lower back or neck ache
  • Injury that happened quite rapidly

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Diagnosis Of Whiplash Injury

Your doctor will ask you about the incident and any symptoms you are experiencing. To learn more about the frequency and intensity of your symptoms, your doctor might also quiz you. Your doctor will also be concerned about your capacity to perform daily tasks.


Throughout the examination, your doctor will need to move and touch your head, neck, and arms. You will be asked to move and perform simple tasks so that your doctor can check the following:

  • Range of motion that causes discomfort or exacerbates pre-existing neck, back, or shoulder problems
  • Your limbs' sensitivity, strength, and reflexes

Imaging tests

Imaging tests reveal no signs of whiplash. However, your doctor will likely order one or more imaging tests to rule out any issues that could exacerbate your neck pain. Imaging tests include:

  • Radiography: Arthritis, fractures, and dislocations can all be diagnosed with neck X-rays taken from different perspectives.
  • CT stands for computed tomography: This specific type of X-ray can provide images of the cross-section of bones and possibly even point to signs of bone degradation.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging is referred to as MRI: This imaging test uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed three-dimensional images. MRI scans help detect soft tissue injuries including ligament, disc, or spinal cord damage in addition to bone injuries.

Also Read: Spinal And Cardiac Poisons

Treatment Of Whiplash Injury

Whiplash treatment is intended to:

  • Reduce pain
  • Return the natural range of mobility to your neck.
  • Return to your normal activities.

How you should be treated will depend on how severe your whiplash injury is. Some people only need over-the-counter drugs and at-home care. Others could need prescription medications, specialist pain treatment, or physical therapy.

Pain Management

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following methods to lessen pain:

  • Relax: Resting for a day or two following an injury may be helpful, but spending too much time in bed can impede healing.
  • Either cold or warm: Applying heat or cold to your neck for fifteen minutes approximately every three hours will help you feel better.
  • Over-the-counter analgesics: Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are sometimes helpful in treating mild to moderate whiplash pain.
  • Prescription medications: Patients with more severe kinds of pain may be taking certain antidepressants that have been shown to alleviate nerve pain.
  • Muscle relaxants: To reduce discomfort and relax tense muscles, it might be suggested to use these drugs for a short while. The drug could also make you fall asleep. It could be administered to assist restore normal sleep if discomfort prevents you from getting a good night's rest.
  • Injections: Injections of lidocaine, a numbing agent, may be used to target painful muscle regions to reduce discomfort and facilitate physical therapy.


Your doctor will likely offer you a list of mobility and stretching exercises that you can perform at home. You can restore the range of motion in your neck and go back to your regular activities with the help of these exercises. It can be suggested that you massage the aching area with moist heat or take a warm shower before working out.

Possible activities include:

  • Rotating your head to the side bending your neck back and forth bending towards your chest and shrugging your shoulders
  • Physical assistance

If you are having trouble with range-of-motion exercises or if your whiplash pain is getting worse, your doctor may suggest seeing a physical therapist. Physical therapy helps you feel better and can prevent further injuries. 

Your physical therapist will lead you through exercises designed to improve your range of motion, strengthen your muscles, and correct your posture.

One potential treatment is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS. TENS uses a low-level electric current to stimulate the skin. Limited evidence suggests that this treatment temporarily relieves neck pain and boosts muscle strength.

Physical therapy sessions will be needed in varying amounts for each individual. Your physical therapist can also create a personalized exercise plan for you to do at home.

Foam collars

Soft foam cervical collars were commonly used in the past to immobilize the head and neck of whiplash victims. However, studies have shown that extended immobilization of the neck can impair muscular strength and hinder the healing process.

However, using a collar to limit your range of motion may improve your nighttime sleep and reduce your pain level shortly after your injury. However, conflicting advice is given regarding the use of a collar. 

Certain experts recommend not wearing it for more than 72 hours, while others suggest wearing it for up to three hours each day for a few weeks. Your doctor can provide you with instructions on how to wear the collar properly and for how long.

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Complications Of Whiplash Injury

The majority of whiplash victims seem to have no long-term effects and heal from their injuries in a couple of weeks. However, some people continue to feel pain months or even years after their accident.

It is difficult to predict how long each whiplash victim will take to heal. In general, you may be more likely to experience chronic pain if you have any of the following factors: severe first symptoms that appeared rapidly; additionally

  • Severe neck pain
  • Limited range of motion
  • Arms-length discomfort

Also Read: Thermal Injury: Types, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Treatment

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