More properly known as acceleration/deceleration injury, hyperextension injury or even sprain/strain, whiplash results from a force applied to the neck which exceeds the normal range of motion, causing injury to the muscles, ligaments and joints, or even the disc structures or nerves of the neck. Whiplash can result from numerous causes, including sports injuries, but is most commonly associated with automobile accidents. Whiplash from auto accidents often occurs because when a car is struck from behind, the body is thrown forward in the seat as the car moves forward. However, the occupant’s head moves a fraction of a second more slowly than the body, causing the head to extend, hyperextending the neck. Patients can sustain injury to their neck even when there is little or no damage to the vehicles involved.

Symptoms can range from mild discomfort to excruciating pain, and the onset of symptoms can be delayed. Symptoms can include:

  • Neck pain, aching or stiffness
  • Headache
  • Pain between the shoulder blades or in the shoulder
  • Mid and Low back pain
  • Pain or numbness in the arm and/or hand
  • Dizziness/Vertigo
  • Ringing in the ears or blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Irritability, fatigue, sleep difficulties
  • Anxiety, sensitivity to noise
  • Jaw pain (TMJ)

Proper treatment begins with a careful examination, and may include imaging studies such as xray or MRI. Treatment can include a variety of modalities, including braces, physiotherapy such as electrical stimulation or low level laser, manipulation, stretching, ice or heat packs, nutritional supports and other approaches. As symptoms improve, your doctor may progress you through a rehabilitation program. Other forms of treatment can include massage, acupuncture, medication.

Neck pain has many causes, including:

  1. Côté P, Cassidy D, Carroll L. The Saskatchewan health and back pain survey: the prevalence of neck pain and related disability in Saskatchewan adults. Spine 1998;23:1689–1698.
  2. Côté P, Cassidy D, Carroll L, Kristman V. The annual incidence and course of neck pain in the general population: a population-based cohort study. Pain 2004: 112:267-273.