Whiplash: What you need to know

Whiplash refers to a series of neck injuries caused by or related to a sudden distortion of the neck.

Whiplash, or whiplash-associated disorder (WAD), is often the result of being struck from behind, for example, by a fast moving vehicle in an automobile accident.

When a blow is struck, the individual’s body is immediately pushed forward while the head remains behind for an instant. This forces the head to rock up and back, stretching and sometimes tearing some muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The muscles automatically contract and bring the head forward, sometimes too far, and the head may rock forward violently, further stretching or tearing muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Fast facts on whiplash

  • Whiplash can be caused by a collision from any direction, not just behind.
  • It can also be caused in other ways, including abuse, horse riding, and contact sports.
  • Sometimes, the full effect of whiplash is not felt for 24 hours or more after the incident.
  • Symptoms can include lower back pain, dizziness, and muscle spasms.
  • Even a slow speed collision can cause whiplash.

Whiplash: What you need to know

Whiplash refers to a series of neck injuries caused by or related to a sudden distortion of the neck.

Whiplash, or whiplash-associated disorder (WAD), is often the result of being struck from behind, for example, by a fast moving vehicle in an automobile accident.

When a blow is struck, the individual’s body is immediately pushed forward while the head remains behind for an instant. This forces the head to rock up and back, stretching and sometimes tearing some muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The muscles automatically contract and bring the head forward, sometimes too far, and the head may rock forward violently, further stretching or tearing muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Fast facts on whiplash

  • Whiplash can be caused by a collision from any direction, not just behind.
  • It can also be caused in other ways, including abuse, horse riding, and contact sports.
  • Sometimes, the full effect of whiplash is not felt for 24 hours or more after the incident.
  • Symptoms can include lower back pain, dizziness, and muscle spasms.
  • Even a slow speed collision can cause whiplash.

Being jostled in a car accident should only cause a few weeks of pain—so why do some people suffer longer? Are they faking it for insurance money? Is it all in their heads?

The first passenger railroad in the United States—the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—began construction in 1828. Five years later, in 1833, the country saw its first fatal train accident. As train travel proliferated, train wrecks became “a surprisingly frequent form of disaster,†the historian Richard Selcer writes. And “the single worst type of railroad accident … not to mention the most frequent, was the rear-end collision.â€

Passengers involved in these train crashes would sometimes come down with a peculiar constellation of symptoms, including back pain, arm pain, headaches, hearing problems, anxiety, insomnia, lowered sex drive, and memory problems. These symptoms would appear even in the absence of any visible injuries. The condition was known colloquially as “railway spine.â€

The physician John Eric Erichsen suggested that it might be caused by the “‘jarring back and forth’ of the spine, although he could not explain what exactly happened to the spinal cord as a result.†So writes Robert Ferrari, a professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, in his book The Whiplash Encyclopedia,noting that “railway spine†in fact bears a striking resemblance to whiplash—a condition also linked to rear-end collisions, but of the automotive kind. (The Mayo Clinic says a whiplash injury “most often occurs during a rear-end auto accident, but the injury can also result from a sports accident, physical abuse, or other trauma.â€)

Being jostled in a car accident should only cause a few weeks of pain—so why do some people suffer longer? Are they faking it for insurance money? Is it all in their heads?

The first passenger railroad in the United States—the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—began construction in 1828. Five years later, in 1833, the country saw its first fatal train accident. As train travel proliferated, train wrecks became “a surprisingly frequent form of disaster,†the historian Richard Selcer writes. And “the single worst type of railroad accident … not to mention the most frequent, was the rear-end collision.â€

Passengers involved in these train crashes would sometimes come down with a peculiar constellation of symptoms, including back pain, arm pain, headaches, hearing problems, anxiety, insomnia, lowered sex drive, and memory problems. These symptoms would appear even in the absence of any visible injuries. The condition was known colloquially as “railway spine.â€

The physician John Eric Erichsen suggested that it might be caused by the “‘jarring back and forth’ of the spine, although he could not explain what exactly happened to the spinal cord as a result.†So writes Robert Ferrari, a professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, in his book The Whiplash Encyclopedia,noting that “railway spine†in fact bears a striking resemblance to whiplash—a condition also linked to rear-end collisions, but of the automotive kind. (The Mayo Clinic says a whiplash injury “most often occurs during a rear-end auto accident, but the injury can also result from a sports accident, physical abuse, or other trauma.â€)

How do whiplash injuries occur?

Whiplash occurs when the muscles in your neck suffer a strain because of a rapid movement backward and then forward. The sudden motion causes your neck’s tendons and ligaments to stretch and tear, resulting in whiplash.

Some things that can cause whiplash include:

  • car accidents
  • physical abuse, such as being punched or shaken
  • contact sports such as football, boxing, and karate
  • horseback riding
  • cycling accidents
  • falls in which the head violently jerks backward
  • blows to the head with a heavy object

Being jostled in a car accident should only cause a few weeks of pain—so why do some people suffer longer? Are they faking it for insurance money? Is it all in their heads?

The first passenger railroad in the United States—the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—began construction in 1828. Five years later, in 1833, the country saw its first fatal train accident. As train travel proliferated, train wrecks became “a surprisingly frequent form of disaster,†the historian Richard Selcer writes. And “the single worst type of railroad accident … not to mention the most frequent, was the rear-end collision.â€

Passengers involved in these train crashes would sometimes come down with a peculiar constellation of symptoms, including back pain, arm pain, headaches, hearing problems, anxiety, insomnia, lowered sex drive, and memory problems. These symptoms would appear even in the absence of any visible injuries. The condition was known colloquially as “railway spine.â€

The physician John Eric Erichsen suggested that it might be caused by the “‘jarring back and forth’ of the spine, although he could not explain what exactly happened to the spinal cord as a result.†So writes Robert Ferrari, a professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, in his book The Whiplash Encyclopedia,noting that “railway spine†in fact bears a striking resemblance to whiplash—a condition also linked to rear-end collisions, but of the automotive kind. (The Mayo Clinic says a whiplash injury “most often occurs during a rear-end auto accident, but the injury can also result from a sports accident, physical abuse, or other trauma.â€)

Whiplash: What you need to know

Whiplash refers to a series of neck injuries caused by or related to a sudden distortion of the neck.

whiplash, or whiplash-associated disorder (WAD), is often the result of being struck from behind, for example, by a fast moving vehicle in an automobile accident.

When a blow is struck, the individual’s body is immediately pushed forward while the head remains behind for an instant. This forces the head to rock up and back, stretching and sometimes tearing some muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The muscles automatically contract and bring the head forward, sometimes too far, and the head may rock forward violently, further stretching or tearing muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Fast facts on whiplash

  • Whiplash can be caused by a collision from any direction, not just behind.
  • It can also be caused in other ways, including abuse, horse riding, and contact sports.
  • Sometimes, the full effect of whiplash is not felt for 24 hours or more after the incident.
  • Symptoms can include lower back pain, dizziness, and muscle spasms.
  • Even a slow speed collision can cause whiplash.

Being jostled in a car accident should only cause a few weeks of pain—so why do some people suffer longer? Are they faking it for insurance money? Is it all in their heads?

The first passenger railroad in the United States—the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—began construction in 1828. Five years later, in 1833, the country saw its first fatal train accident. As train travel proliferated, train wrecks became “a surprisingly frequent form of disaster,” the historian Richard Selcer writes. And “the single worst type of railroad accident … not to mention the most frequent, was the rear-end collision.”

Passengers involved in these train crashes would sometimes come down with a peculiar constellation of symptoms, including back pain, arm pain, headaches, hearing problems, anxiety, insomnia, lowered sex drive, and memory problems. These symptoms would appear even in the absence of any visible injuries. The condition was known colloquially as “railway spine.”

The physician John Eric Erichsen suggested that it might be caused by the “‘jarring back and forth’ of the spine, although he could not explain what exactly happened to the spinal cord as a result.” So writes Robert Ferrari, a professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, in his book The Whiplash Encyclopedia,noting that “railway spine” in fact bears a striking resemblance to whiplash—a condition also linked to rear-end collisions, but of the automotive kind. (The Mayo Clinic says a whiplash injury “most often occurs during a rear-end auto accident, but the injury can also result from a sports accident, physical abuse, or other trauma.”)

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