Whiplash is one of the common injuries that may occur to a person’s neck after a sudden acceleration-deceleration force which results in uncontrolled, quick forward and backward movement of the head and neck. It is most commonly associated with car accidents, however any impact or knock that causes sudden jerky forward or backward movement of head and neck can cause whiplash. Hence, whiplash also known as cervical sprain is also frequently seen in professional / amateur athletes and football players.
The cervical spine or neck in human body has a significant range of movement, but impact of a car accident causes the neck to move considerably beyond its normal range of movement. While your body is restrained by seat belt, your head and neck move freely and hyperextend, resulting in whiplash injury.
Research in recent years has validated that whiplash injuries are not limited to only high impact accidents and may also be caused by low impact collisions; a speed of even 15 MPH(miles per hour) or a sudden change of speed by 2.5 MPH are enough to cause a whiplash along with some minor back injuries.
In car accidents, most common scenario causing whiplash unfolds as a vehicle hits a car, not moving or very slowly moving, from behind. The person in the car that gets hit experiences an impact from behind that pushes the torso forward while head and neck are thrown in a sudden forceful backward position (hyper-extension). It is followed by a short recovery period and then a head and neck move in a forward position (hyper flexion).
Research studies in last few years that examined high-speed cameras and crash dummies have further elucidated that after the impact from behind cervical vertebra(neck bones) in the lower part of the neck are pushed backward(hyperextension), while the vertebra in the lower part of neck go in forward position(hyperflexion). This leads to formation of an abnormal S-shape of the cervical spine. This abnormal shape may cause injury to vertebral discs and surrounding soft tissues including muscles, ligaments and nerves.
We have already mentioned sporting activities, additional to that; falls, roller coaster rides and being punched violently or shaken forcibly may also result in whiplash injuries to neck. Furthermore, people already suffering from neck conditions such as arthritis and in older age, there is diminishing strength and elasticity of the vertebra, discs and ligaments. Thus,a sudden forceful back and forth whip of the neck markedly increases the risk of damage and injury.
Details of the symptoms and treatment of whiplash will be discussed in upcoming article.