A Whiplash Injury May Be More Serious Than You Realize

Whiplash, also known as a neck strain or sprain, is an injury to the muscular and soft tissues of the neck region. It commonly occurs when a person or persons in a car are rear-ended by another vehicle. Even with a seat headrest in place, the sudden impact causes a backward and forward jarring movement that over-flexes the ligaments, tendons and muscles beyond their normal elasticity, resulting in injury. A whiplash injury may cause complications and long-term serious side effects which could require the consultation of an auto accident attorney in order to avoid mounting costs for treatment.

Most Common Cause and Affected Area

Whiplash is one of the most frequent injuries that can happen during a rear end vehicular impact. A vehicle can be stopped or in motion when another vehicle strikes the rear portion of the vehicle. The weight of the head, in conjunction with the neck’s built-in ability to flex in several directions, causes a sudden force of uncontrolled momentum in this weak spot, allowing the head to pitch violently backward and then forward. Even an off-angled hit can cause a sudden sidewise motion. The upper back muscles may be affected due to the muscle, ligament and tendon attachment to the neck. Normally the ability of the connective tissue in the neck to flex and extend is a protective function that prevents more dangerous injuries to the delicate spinal column; however sudden, violent movement is not a factor that a person’s neck is designed to withstand.


The symptoms associated with whiplash most commonly include pain to the top portion of the back in the area below the base of the neck. Sensations of tightness, along with muscle spasms or sensitivity in the neck or upper back are also often felt. Dizziness or headache may occur and persist for hours or even days, depending upon the severity of the original injury. There may be difficulty in chewing or swallowing, accompanied by a speech abnormality such as hoarseness. Pain in either shoulder might be felt, along with a tingling, numb or burning sensation. Minor whiplash injuries can usually be treated by the alternating application of moist heat and ice packs, and sometimes by chiropractic adjustment, pain medications, ultrasound or laser treatment. Sometimes neck braces are prescribed after treatment to keep the neck immobile so it may heal correctly. The neck brace is designed to keep the tissues immobile and to remove the strain of normal movement—if your doctor prescribes a brace, ensure that you use it, so that you do not compromise your recovery.

Serious Complications—What You Might Not Know

In cases of severe impact, the vertebrae of the neck and upper back can be displaced or dislocated, resulting in a wedge fracture, ruptured disc and pinched nerves. This condition is serious and can lead to a partial or full paralysis which may require expensive, corrective surgery. Even in cases that do not require surgical intervention, injuries to the vertebrae can result in long-term pain, particularly if they are not treated quickly.

The condition temporomandibular joint syndrome, known as TMJ, can cause a soreness or locking of the jaw, chewing pain and discomfort from the ear up to the temple area. In severe cases of TMJ, surgery is performed to remove adhesion (tissue knots), or scarring and fracture chips in the joint. The larynx and esophagus can sustain damage, prompting symptoms of chewing and swallowing pain. TMJ can be a result of severe whiplash, as it can result from damage to the cervical spine.

Whiplash injuries may induce memory loss due to a concussion sustained in the accident, and this can be the result of unseen hemorrhaging or fractures that were not immediately detected.


Routine X-rays will determine if there is obvious damage to the vertebral column and surrounding tissues. However, simple radiographs might not find other underlying damage, in which case a MRI or CT scan must be performed to discover more complicated ligament injuries, small fractures and herniated discs. A doctor may also perform a variety of hands-on tests to determine things like range of motion and pain response.

Symptoms of severe joint and spinal injuries may be unnoticeable for days, weeks, months and in some cases years. Any persons involved in a whiplash injury accident should seek the advice and treatment of a chiropractor or doctor. Those who believe that they have sustained injury should contact a professional auto accident attorney for advice and legal procedures for compensation.

Your location: