What is whiplash?

Whiplash, also known as neck sprain or neck strain, is the name given to a collection of symptoms that occur when the neck jolts or snaps after an accident or injury. In a case of whiplash, the intervertebral joints (located between the vertebrae), discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots may become damaged. Injuries to the neck include torn ligaments, strained muscles and tendons, and herniated discs.

What causes whiplash?

Whiplash is caused by a sudden jerking motion of the head, either backward or forward. Whiplash can occur after an automobile accident, fall, sports injury, or other sudden jolt of the head, which causes soft tissue injury to the neck. The extent and type of injuries vary greatly.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

Symptoms of whiplash may not appear until 1 or 2 days after the injury. When symptoms occur, they include:

  • Pain and stiffness in the front and back of the neck (the pain may get worse when turning the head to the right or left)
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
  • Low back pain
  • Pain or numbness in the arm and/or hand
  • Jaw pain
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances and fatigue
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Nausea
  • A tingling sensation in the shoulders or arms

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/12/2014.


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