This term was introduced in 1928 to define an injury caused by a sudden hyperextension followed by an immediate hyperflexion of the neck that results in damage to the muscles, ligaments and tendons especially those that support the head. Today, whiplash results from rapid extension and flexion and not just hypertension and hyperflexion.

There are four phases of whiplash injury:

Phase 1

During a rear-end car collision, your car pushes out from under you causing your midback to be flattened against the back of your seat. This leads to an upward force in your cervical spine compressing your discs and joints. As your seat back begins to accelerate your torso forward, your head moves backward creating a shearing force in the neck. If the head restraint is adjusted well, the head travels for a small distance backwards. However, most damages of the spine occur before the head reaches your head restraint. A study shows that head restraints only reduce the risk of injury by 11-20 %.

Phase 2

The torso will have reached peak acceleration 1.5 to 2 times that of a vehicle. An s curve develops in your cervical spine as the seat back recoils forward adding to the acceleration of the torso. Many of the bone, joint, nerve, disc, and TMJ injuries occur during this phase.

Phase 3

The torso descends down your seat and your neck and head are at their peak acceleration. If you had released the pressure on the brake pedal during the first phases, it will be reapplied during this phase.

Phase 4

Your torso is stopped by the seat belt and your shoulder restraint and your head is free to move forward. This results in a violent straining of muscles and ligaments, cutting fibres in the spinal discs and forcing vertebrae out of their normal. The spinal code and the nerve roots get stretched and your brain can strike the inside of the skull causing brain injury.

Injuries resulting from whiplash trauma

Neck pain, headaches, fatigue, upper back and shoulder pain, cognitive changes and low back pain.

Neck pain

It is the most common complaint. Whiplash affects the neck tissues including face joints, muscles, ligaments and the nerves.


This is the most prevalent after the neck pain. Some headaches are as a result to brain injury but some are caused by injury to the muscles, ligaments, and facet joints.

TMJ problems

TMJ usually starts as pain, clicking and popping noises in the jaw during movement. If not properly treated, they can lead to headaches, facial pain, ear pain and difficulty eating.

Brain injury

When the brain is forced forward and backwards, it will be dislocated from the skull. This will lead to bleeding or bruising. Consequences of brain injury include mild confusion, sleep disturbance, irritability, forgetfulness, loss of sex drive, depression and emotional stability.


Results from injury to the facet joints of the cervical spine although damage to the brain can also cause it.

Low back pain

This is due to the fact that the low back experiences compression during the first two phases.

Recovery from whiplash

With good treatment, whiplash heal within 6 months. Whiplash requires a professional health specialist to work with these types of injuries.

Chiropractic care

Chiropractic care restores the normal movement and position of the spinal vertebrae.

Soft tissue rehabilitation

During the whiplash, the tissues that are mostly affected are the soft tissues, the muscles, the ligaments and the discs. For one to avoid permanent impairment, it is important to use therapies that stimulate the soft tissues to heal. The therapies include the massage therapy, stretching, electro-stimulation, trigger point therapy and many other exercises.

Home care

You must ensure that your plan of care extends into the time while at home before you make any visits to a doctor. This will help in speeding up the healing process. Home care therapies include: ice pack application, doing little work, stretching, taking a balanced diet and getting enough rest.

Medical intervention

Incase whiplash has got much severe effects to your body; it is time you consider medical help from the medical practitioners. The commonly used medical methods include the use of muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medications, trigger point injections and sometimes epidural spinal injections.