Whiplash Animation

Whiplash affects about 3 million people in the United States annually.1 Car crashes are one of the most common causes of the injury. If you are riding in a car that is rear-ended, the sudden impact can cause your neck to snap back and forth in a rapid motion, potentially leading to whiplash. This video animation will show you the basics of this type of cervical spinal trauma.

Whiplash is a hyperextension (Figure 1) and hyperflexion type injury that causes the head and neck to suddenly and quickly “whip” backward and forward (picture below). The structural components in the cervical spine—anti-inflammatory drugs, ligaments, muscles, spinal cord, and nerves—are subjected to forces that cause this neck trauma.

hyperextension caused by whiplash

Figure 1. Hyperextension is a dramatic and swift backward movement of the neck and head.

hyperflexion caused by whiplash

Figure 2. Hyperflexion is the forward motion of the neck and head (opposite of hyperextension).

It is important to always wear your seatbelt when riding in a car. While the belt may not protect you from whiplash, it can prevent additional injuries, such as hitting your head on the steering wheel.

Besides car accidents, there are other ways to incur whiplash. The injury can result from falls, sports injuries, or any activities that cause you to shake around violently (such as riding on a roller coaster). Whiplash is also commonly associated with shaken baby syndrome.

Whiplash injuries vary in their severity. Some people may experience pain that heals over a few weeks with little or no treatment. In other cases, the injury may cause damage to the facet joints in the neck, or it may cause tears in surrounding ligaments, muscles, or tendons. You may find that pain extends from your neck into an arm or hand—this is called radiculopathy.

Even if you do not feel pain, you should visit a doctor following a car accident. Whiplash pain can begin immediately after an accident, or it can take several days (even months) for you to begin experiencing symptoms.

Just as the severity of whiplash can vary, there are a variety of treatment options available for whiplash. Your doctor may recommend a neck brace, physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and/or a muscle relaxant. Surgery for whiplash is usually only recommended for whiplash in extreme cases, such as spinal cord compression.

Updated on: 05/31/18
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