Whiplash: a review of a commonly misunderstood injury

Am J Med. 2001 Jun 1;110(8):651-6. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(01)00680-5.


Whiplash injury is a relatively common occurrence, but its mechanism and optimal treatment remain poorly understood. It is estimated that the incidence of whiplash injury is approximately 4 per 1,000 persons. The most common radiographic findings include either preexisting degenerative changes or a slight flattening of the normal lordotic curvature of the cervical spine. Computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging are generally reserved for cases of neurologic deficit, suspected disc or spinal cord damage, fracture, or ligamentous damage. Biomechanics studies have determined that after rear impact C6 is rotated back into extension before movement of the upper cervical vertebrae. Thus, the lower cervical vertebrae were in extension while the upper vertebrae were in a position of relative flexion, producing an S shape in the cervical spine. It is believed that this abnormal motion pattern might play a role in the development of whiplash injuries. Historically, a soft cervical collar has been used early after the injury in an attempt to restrict cervical range of motion and limit the chances of further injury. More recent studies report rest and restriction of motion to be detrimental and to slow the healing process.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Whiplash Injuries* / diagnosis
  • Whiplash Injuries* / physiopathology
  • Whiplash Injuries* / therapy