How rear-end collisions cause whiplash

A driver involved in an accident in which another vehicle strikes from behind may experience symptoms of whiplash within a few hours or a few days. Signs and symptoms of whiplash can range from mild to severe and include pain and stiffness of the neck and decreased range of motion. These symptoms can extend into the shoulders and arms. Whiplash patients may also experience anxiety, dizziness, fatigue and headaches. 

The association between whiplash and car accidents is well-known. Nevertheless, many people may not understand how and why whiplash results from a rear-end collision. 

Violent motion 

The force from a rear-end collision may cause the head of the driver in the front car to move quickly and involuntarily in a forward-and-back motion. This is similar to the movement of nodding one’s head, but much more forceful. According to the Mayo Clinic, the movement resembles the crack of a whip, which is where the condition gets its name. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the violent movement of the head can cause damage to the soft tissues of the neck. These include the muscles, nerves, disks and ligaments. 

Difficult diagnosis 

Doctors usually base a whiplash diagnosis on physical examination and patients’ subjective reports of pain. Damage to the soft tissue structures of the neck is often too small to be evident on imaging tests. However, these are still useful for ruling out fractures and other injuries that could be causing the pain. 

Some people have long-term complications of pain from whiplash injuries. This is especially true if the collision occurred at a high speed. However, most patients recover fully within a matter of weeks.