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What is Whiplash?

Say "whiplash" and most of us immediately think of car accident. You're rear-ended as you sit at a stop sign, and your head flies forward, then backwards. It really does whip back and forth, so even though "whiplash" isn't technically a medical term, it's a very accurate description of what happens—and what can cause so much pain.

Doctors call whiplash a neck sprain or strain. Other technical medical terms related to whiplash are hyperextension and hyperflexion. Hyperextension is when your neck whips backwards; hyperflexion is when it goes forwards.

Each year, almost 2 million Americans are injured and suffer from whiplash. A lot of those injuries do come from car accidents, but there are other ways to get whiplash. You can get whiplash from:

  • A sports injury
  • A fall
  • Being punched or shaken

Whiplash can take days, weeks, or even months to develop. You may think that you're all right after a car accident, fall, or other initial injury. However, slowly, the typical symptoms (neck pain and stiffness, tightness in the shoulders, etc—you'll learn more about the symptoms in this article) may develop.

So—even if you don't have pain immediately following a neck injury, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Whiplash can have long-term effects on your spinal health, and in the long run, it can be associated with other spinal conditions such as osteoarthritis (bone and joint pain) and premature disc degeneration (faster aging of the spine).

 

woman with neck pain

 

Updated on: 01/09/14
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Anatomy of Whiplash

Because your neck is so moveable (it has the most range of motion of any spinal region), it's also highly susceptible to whiplash. Article explains the basic anatomy of your cervical spine and how the parts work together.
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