Objectives: To focus on a topic of traumatology and rehabilitation becoming recently a much debated public health problem.
Method: A references search from Medline database with whiplash as keyword was carried out. Were selected articles with abstracts in french or english and focusing on accidentology, biomechanics, demonstrated lesions, epidemiology and treatments.
Results: From 1664 references found, 232 were reviewed. The usual mechanism of crash is a rear-end collision inducing in the occupants of the bumped vehicle a sudden lower cervical spine extension with upper flexion followed by a global flexion. In nearly 50% of the cases, the stress occurring in the collision is comparable to that observed in bumper cars. The velocity changes are seldom up to 15 km/h. A headrest at the level of the center of gravity of the head restrict significantly the extension of the neck. Every structure of the cervical spine could be damaged and mainly the facet joints but the lesions were only demonstrated in severes traumatisms. The discrepancies in incidence among the different countries could be related to their medicolegal system. Although subjectives, the early symptoms are rather similar among patients suggesting true anatomical or functional disorders but the chronicity seems to be mainly related to social and psychological factors. The association of: no posterior midline cervical tenderness, no intoxication, normal alertness, no focal neurological deficit and no painful distracting injuries has a good predictive value of the lack of osteo-articular lesion on X-rays. Except the grade IV of the Quebec task Force (0, no symptom; 1, pain and stiffness; 2, neck complaint and physical signs; 3, neck complaint and neurological signs; 4, fracture or dislocation) the use of a collar should be avoided and the cervical spine should be mobilized.
Conclusion: In most whiplash injuries, the mildness should be early stated, mobilization encouraged, and procedures of compensation shortened.