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Diseases & Conditions


What is whiplash?

Whiplash, also called neck sprain or neck strain, is a soft tissue injury to the neck. Whiplash is characterized by a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the neck. In whiplash, the intervertebral (located between vertebrae) joints, discs, and ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots might become damaged.

What causes whiplash?

Whiplash is a disorder that commonly occurs as the result of an automobile accident or other sudden jolt of the head, causing soft tissue injury to the neck. Whiplash is caused by an abrupt jerking motion of the head, either backward or forward. The extent and type of injuries varies greatly.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

Symptoms of whiplash might be delayed for 24 hours or more after the initial trauma. However, people who experience whiplash might develop one or more of the following symptoms, usually within the first few days after the accident:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
  • Low back pain
  • Pain or numbness in the arm and/or hand
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears or blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue

How is whiplash diagnosed?

In most cases of whiplash, injuries are to soft tissues such as the disks, muscles, and ligaments, and cannot be seen on standard X-rays. Specialized imaging tests, such as CT scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), might be required for diagnosis.

How is whiplash treated?

In the past, whiplash injuries were often treated with immobilization in a cervical collar. However, the current trend is to encourage early movement instead of immobilization. Ice might be applied for the first 24 hours, followed by gentle active movement. No single treatment has been scientifically proven as effective, but pain relieving medicines such as Motrin or Aleve, exercises, physical therapy, traction, massage, heat, ice, injections, and ultrasound all have been helpful for certain patients.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 8/1/2007...#11982

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