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Understanding Whiplash

Introduction to Whiplash: Defenition and Causes

Definition of Whiplash

Whiplash is a term that describes a pain in the neck after an event that causes the head to move too much forwards, backwards or sideways. Whiplash often leads to pain, stiffness and other symptoms.

Causes of Whiplash

Car and Motorcycle Accidents

Car and motorcycle accidents are the main reported cause of whiplash injuries.

Rapid Head Movement

During whiplash the head and neck move quickly and abruptly and this may cause some of the tendons, ligaments and muscles to strain and hurt.

Joint and Disc Damage

If more force is applied, then some of the joints and discs can get damaged or irritated.

Sudden Hits, Falls, Sports, and Rollercoasters

Whiplash can also be caused by a sudden hit on the head, a fall, during sports and even from rollercoasters.

Diagnosis of Whiplash: Symptoms, Tests, and Recovery Time

Diagnosing Whiplash

  • Symptom-Based Diagnosis: Whiplash can be diagnosed by your symptoms.

  • Doctor's Examination and Medication: The doctor can prescribe medication for your pain and being active helps with your recovery.

  • MRI Scans: An MRI scan (magnetic imaging) is generally not helpful and usually does not show any damage. It may however show age related changes in the neck.

Timeframe of Recovery

  • Immediate and Delayed Symptoms: Sometimes the symptoms will start immediately and sometimes stiffness and pain can take up to 48 hours to appear.
  • Most people with whiplash will recover by one month and younger people recover more quickly.

  • Seeking Reassurance: Visit your family doctor or the hospital if you had a whiplash injury and you are in need of reassurance.


  • McClune T, Burton AK, Waddell G (2002) Whiplash associated disorders: a review of the literature to guide patient information and advice. Emerg Med J. 19:499-506.
  • Suissa et al (2001) The relationship between initial symptoms and signs, and the prognosis of whiplash - European Spine Journal.

EUROSPINE is a society of spine specialists of various disciplines with a large knowledge of spine pathologies. All well-known and accepted treatment modalities for spine pathologies are represented by the members of the society. However, the Society cannot accept any responsibility for the use of the information provided; the user and their health care professionals must retain responsibility for their health care management.

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