Whiplash Injuries: The Basics
What Is Whiplash?
The term "whiplash" is used to describe a range of neck injuries -- particularly soft tissue damage to the neck -- common in many rear-end car accidents. When a car is rear-ended, the impact propels the driver's and passengers' bodies forward while their heads stay in place, exposing the neck to sudden, extreme extension and flexion that follows a whip-like motion. So injuries to the neck that result from this extreme snapping or jerking are commonly called whiplash.
Note: Personal injury attorneys avoid using the word "whiplash." In recent years the word "whiplash" has come to be associated with fake or exaggerated personal injury claims -- scaring up images of lawyers handing neck braces to clients before their court appearances. So it's a good idea to avoid using the word in your personal injury action or insurance claim. Whiplash-type injuries are now commonly referred to by more technical names like hyperextension/hyperflexion injury, myofascial injury, neck sprain or strain, and cervical strain or sprain.
Whiplash and neck injuries are commonly associated with rear-end car accidents, where the occupants of the front vehicle are unprepared for impact. But whiplash injuries can result from other types of incidents too, including:
- car and truck accidents that don't involve rear-end impact
- contact sports like football, hockey, and soccer
- intentional assaults that produce head trauma (a hard shove from behind, for example)
- skiing and snowboarding accidents
- repetitive stress injuries at work
- child abuse (shaken baby syndrome, for example), and
- slip and fall accidents in stores and homes or on poorly-maintained sidewalks.
A quick note on misconceptions about whiplash causes: It's a common misconception that only high speed, serious collisions result in whiplash-type injuries. In actuality, whiplash is commonly caused by low speed, low impact, rear-end automobile collisions. The causes of whiplash are complex and relate to a range of factors beyond just the force of impact. These factors include the position of the driver or passenger's head at the time of impact; the person's seating position, height, and gender; the position of seat and head restraints; and the relative size and weight of the vehicles involved in the accident.
Another misconception about whiplash is that, because it involves soft tissue, whiplash is minor and not all that serious of an injury. However, medical evidence suggests that soft tissue injuries can be serious and can have long-term effects if left untreated. This is why it's important to be checked out by a doctor if you have been involved in any type of car accident.
Whether they come about after a car accident or other type of mishap, signs of a whiplash or neck injury include:
- neck pain and stiffness
- decreased range of motion
- blurred vision
- shoulder, arm, or back pain
- unusual sensations (e.g., burning, prickling, tingling in arms)
- sleep disturbance, fatigue, or trouble concentrating, and
- other cognitive or psychological difficulties.
Remember that it may take several days before whiplash symptoms appear. So, if you or a loved one has been in a car crash or other kind of accident, keep a close eye on possible signs of whiplash injury.