Whiplash is a painful medical condition involving the vertebrae, nerves, ligaments, muscles or a combination of these structures within the neck. Whiplash may occur after a car accident or other forceful event. An injured person might feel dull or acute pain accompanied by inflammation, limited mobility and muscle tenderness.

Seek the advice of a doctor if you are worried about having whiplash. In some cases, individuals may have internal injuries in addition to whiplash that may not be seen by the untrained eye. If you feel any pain, treat it with the care of a professional right away.


Whiplash is most commonly caused by a vehicle collision. The high impact of a car crash can cause the neck to whip forward unnaturally causing an intense strain and flexion of the neck.

Whiplash may occur in other ways as well.  For instance, sports injuries, slip and fall accidents, and physical abuse can all contribute to whiplash if the extension of the neck is severe.

The pain is caused by a combination of inflammation and structural damage to the neck including injured muscles, ligaments, discs or nerves.

You might be more susceptible to whiplash if you have been:

  • Rear-ended in a car accident
  • Hit while your vehicle was stopped
  • Hit by multiple vehicles from various directions


Whiplash may occur immediately following an accident or it may appear days after a car crash. Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • Muscle tenderness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Stiff neck
  • Pinched nerves
  • Headache
  • Muscle spasms
  • Localized pain in the neck and down the back

Some individuals report feelings of anxiety, fatigue or memory disturbances.


A doctor can perform several tests to diagnose whiplash, but sometimes test results may appear normal due to injuries that occur in small structures that tests cannot pick up. Tests often fail to capture symptoms of inflammation. In addition, many people report pain associated with whiplash even though tests may ultimately come back “normal.”

Your doctor may perform tests such as:

  • Physical exam. The doctor will check your posture, range of motion, and muscle tension around the neck. If the doctor suspects abnormalities, he or she will perform additional tests to find and treat the cause of pain.
  • Cervical spine MRI. An “MRI” (magnetic resonance imaging) is a medical test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves in combination with a sophisticated computer program to look inside the human body. A cervical spine MRI can take pictures of soft tissue and discs within the neck that may have been damaged.
  • CT scan. A CT scan is a more sophisticated version of an X-ray. It might be ordered to investigate bone structures more closely. Or, a CT scan might be ordered if the doctor suspects other internal bodily injury.
  • Bone scan. A bone scan may be ordered to identify tiny fractures in discs that may otherwise fail to be picked up by an MRI or CT scan.


Whiplash diagnoses may be categorized as “Acute whiplash associated disorders (WAD)” as identified by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Injuries are graded in severity by the Quebec Task Force. However, your doctor may or may not use this grading system.

Grade 0: There are no complaints of neck pain and the neck appears normal.

Grade I: Neck pain, stiffness and/or tenderness. Grade I injuries have no physical signs of damage.

Grade II: Neck pain, stiffness and/or tenderness PLUS musculoskeletal sign(s) such as decreased range of motion and muscle tenderness.

Grade III: Neck pain, stiffness and/or tenderness PLUS neurological sign(s) similar to Grade II severity.

Grade IV: Neck pain, stiffness and/or tenderness AND fractured or dislocated disc.


With appropriate medical treatment, most people will experience relief within a few weeks to a few months. However, some people may experience long-lasting or permanent neck damage. Some studies according to the Cleveland Clinic show that whiplash pain may persist for up to one year in some cases.

Some factors that may influence your healing process include:

  • The intensity of the car crash. Generally, the more severe the car crash, the more severe your whiplash may be.
  • Severe pain immediately following the accident. If you had severe pain at the onset of the crash, your whiplash may persist.
  • Memory loss or neurological symptoms accompanying whiplash. If you experienced any memory loss or other loss of mental function after a car accident, your chances for whiplash to remain long-lasting or permanent increase.
  • Shooting pain. If you experienced or continue to experience shooting pain due to nerve damage, your whiplash may persist.


Your doctor may treat whiplash by:

  • Prescribing anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Prescribing other medications to help with pain
  • Referring to physical therapy and/or occupational therapy
  • Referring to other specialists for surgery or other neck and/or spine care


If you have been in a car accident and you are suffering from whiplash as a result, it is important to talk to an accident attorney right away to secure your legal rights. Speak to a lawyer for free. Call us today, 24/7: 858-551-2090 or click here to send us an email with your questions right now.