Whiplash is a fairly common injury that occurs in a person’s neck after a sudden acceleration-deceleration force. It is most commonly a result of motor vehicle accidents. In 1928, the term “whiplash” was first used. A similar condition known as “railway spine” was used to describe a condition that was common in people who were involved in train accidents prior to 1928. The term “whiplash associated disorders” describes a more chronic and severe condition, while the term “whiplash injury” describes damage to specifically the soft tissues and the bone structures.
The majority of people involved in minor motor vehicle accidents recover fast and without any chronic symptoms, however, some people continue to experience symptoms for many years after the injury occurred. This broad variation is symptoms after fairly minor injuries has led some experts to speculate that in certain cases, whiplash is not so much a real physiologic injury but that the symptoms are often created as a result of potential compensation. There have been numerous clinical studies that have investigated this theory. There will unfortunately always be those individuals who are willing to attempt to mislead the system to enhance their own personal gain, however, whiplash has real symptoms and is a real condition.
What Causes Whiplash?
Generally, whiplash is most often caused by a motor vehicle accident in which the car the individual is riding in is not moving and is struck from behind by another vehicle without any warning. It is commonly felt that rear impact causes the neck and head to be forced into hyperextension as the seat pushes the person’s torso forward. This causes the unrestrained neck and head to fall backwards. After a short delay, the neck and the head then recover and are immediately thrown into a hyperflexed position.
There have been more recent studies investigating sophisticated crash test dummies with high-speed cameras. These studies have determined that after the rear impact, the lower bones in the neck, known as the lower cervical vertebrae, are forced into a position of hyperextension, while the upper bones in the neck or the upper cervical vertebrae are in a hyperflexed position. This situation causes an abnormal S-shape in the cervical spine once the rear impact occurs which is very different from the normal motion. Many experts believe that this abnormal motion causes damage to the soft tissues that hold the cervical vertebrae together, as in the muscles, facet capsules and the ligaments.