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Whiplash Injury

If you were involved in a sudden impact or movement and later experienced pain with moving of your head or shoulders, you have probably sustained a whiplash injury.

Whiplash injuries are the most common neck injury from a car crash, although can be triggered by work and other accidents involving a sudden movement of the cervical spine.

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a non-medical term describing a range of injuries to the neck caused by or related to a sudden distortion of the neck[1] associated with extension,[2] although the exact injury mechanism(s) remain unknown. The term “whiplash” is a colloquialism. “Cervical acceleration–deceleration” (CAD) describes the mechanism of the injury, while the term “whiplash associated disorders” (WAD) describes the injury sequelae and symptoms.


A whiplash neck injury is probably better described as a cervical spine strain injury associated with extension (stretching) of the neck. It usually happens when there is a sudden backward and forward movement of the head, stretching the ligaments and muscles which hold the spinal column of your neck. It is generally regarded as a separate soft tissue injury, in that affects the muscular and ligament tissues rather than a bony injury directly affecting the spine, though some diagnosis systems incorporate the bony injuries too.

However, a whiplash injury can result in skeletal problems. A common side-effect is the narrowing of space between spinal vertebrae; a condition called “lordosis”. Often this narrowing, combined with the inflammation of tissue, can impinge the nerves in the spinal column or the nerves leaving the spinal column and entering the head, neck and shoulders.

There is normally a delayed onset of symptoms, with most suffers experiencing pain and stiffness a day or two following the traumatic event - and sometimes longer. It can be associated with the triggering of various pain conditions - though whether they relate correlate to initial trauma or the whiplash injury is unknown.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms vary but can include pain and aching in the neck and upper back, occipital headaches, dizziness and unsteadiness, disorientation, pins and needles. Secondary symptoms can include diminished attention span and concentration, mood changes and behavioural modification.

Diagnosis of whiplash injury is through patient history, examination. It is not uncommon to use medical imaging studies and injections to investigate the presence of concurrent spinal damage. Whiplash injuries may be graded for severity.

Symptoms are typically treated under a conservative regime and can involve recuperation, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, pain management and other medications. If symptoms do not resolve as expected, or symptoms are severe, treatment may investigate nerve spinal damage or degeneration. This is usually done via medical imaging, though injections of cortisone and other pain medication may be required when imaging is inconclusive.

Case Strategy

As with any injury, you should allow for completion of initial treatment investigations before attempting settlement. In the case of a whiplash injury, this will help ensure that any underlying bony injury or consequential pain condition will not be ‘masked’ and will be included as part of the claim.

Although a common injury with motor vehicle accident cases, you should seek assistance from an experienced personal injury lawyer for proper case management of your whiplash injury claim to get the best compensation.