Whiplash is not a formal medical term. It is a lay term for an injury to the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) of the neck, although whiplash can also include injuries to the joints between the neck vertebrae, the disks in the neck, and the roots of the nerves that branch out of the spinal cord.
Whiplash is caused by the sudden deceleration of a car in a collision. This sudden deceleration causes a person’s head to bob back and forth. The medical definition of what happens to the person’s neck is that it has a sudden extension and flexion.
Because the definition of whiplash can cover many different types of injury, whiplash can have many different symptoms. In general, whiplash symptoms include neck or upper back pain or stiffness, shoulder pain or stiffness, headache, dizziness, or a burning or itching sensation in the neck, shoulders, or arms. If the car collision was severe, whiplash can also cause memory loss, difficulty in concentration, sleep disturbances, fatigue, or depression.
Symptoms of whiplash often develop immediately after the collision. Most people will get out of the car after a car collision feeling some sort of twinge in their neck, but it is not uncommon for a person who has been in a car collision to feel fine immediately afterward, and not have whiplash symptoms for a day or two. Whiplash injuries can heal relatively quickly, or they might take weeks or even months to go away.
If you have neck pain after a car collision, you should get medical treatment. If the pain is severe, you should see a doctor or go to the hospital right away. Learn more about whiplash and car collision claims.