Whiplash, also known as neck sprain or neck strain, is the name given to a collection of symptoms that occur when the neck jolts or snaps after an accident or injury. In a case of this pain, the intervertebral joints (located between the vertebrae), discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots may become damaged. Injuries to the neck include torn ligaments, strained muscles and tendons, and herniated discs.
Whiplash is caused by a sudden jerking motion of the head, either backward or forward. This can occur after an automobile accident, fall, sports injury, or other sudden jolt of the head, which causes soft tissue injury to the neck. The extent and type of injuries vary greatly.
Generally, whiplash can be diagnosed clinically by a thorough history and physical exam by your doctor. In most cases of whiplash, injuries are to soft tissues such as discs, muscles, and ligaments, and cannot be seen on X-rays. Specialized imaging tests, such as CT scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be needed to accurately diagnose, but are not required for the diagnosis.
In the past, whiplash injuries were often treated with immobilization (preventing the neck from moving) in a cervical collar. However, the current treatment is to encourage early movement instead of immobilization.