Causes of Whiplash

Most simply described, whiplash is caused by a motion or force that makes your neck move beyond its normal range of motion. While the cervical spine is the most mobile region of your spinal column, unnatural forces can cause the neck to move beyond its normal range of motion. The sudden and excessive forward (hyperflexion) and backward (hyperextension) motions associated with whiplash can cause severe neck pain that radiates into the shoulders and upper back.

Man holding his neck folowing a car accident.There's one major cause of whiplash that most everyone thinks of immediately: car accidents. Photo Source:

Whiplash Severity Measured by Speed

There's one major cause of whiplash that most everyone thinks of immediately: car accidents. Even speeds as low as 15 mph can produce enough energy to cause whiplash—whether or not you are wearing a seatbelt. (However, if you are not properly restrained with your seatbelt, your head may strike the steering wheel or windshield, causing a concussion in addition to whiplash. You should definitely always wear your seatbelt.)

An 8 mph car collision produces two times the force of gravity (or a 2-G) deceleration of the car, and a 5-G deceleration of the head. This unnatural and forceful movement affects the muscles and ligaments in the neck, stretching and potentially tearing them. The discs between the vertebrae can bulge, tear, or rupture, and vertebrae can be forced out of their normal position, reducing your range of motion. The spinal cord and nerve roots can get stretched, irritated, and "choked."




Other Whiplash Causes

Whiplash can also be caused by sporting activities (eg, football spearing), falls, roller coasters, or being punched or shaken.

Aging also increases susceptible to whiplash. Older adults, and people who already have neck problems such as arthritis (eg, spondylosis, osteoarthritis), may experience more serious whiplash than a younger person. As people grow older, their movement is more limited, their muscles lose flexibility and strength, and their discs and ligaments are not as elastic (stretchy). So, when their neck whips back and forth, it has more potential for damage.

Updated on: 03/12/19
Continue Reading
Exams and Tests for Whiplash
Continue Reading:

Exams and Tests for Whiplash

Even if you just have minor neck pain after an injury causing whiplash, you should see your doctor or a spine specialist.
Read More