Objective: To provide a perspective on "whiplash" injury in Australia by examining conflicting evidence, which suggests on the one hand that the disorder is a culturally conditioned and legally sanctioned illness and on the other, that it is an occult injury which can cause chronic pain.
Data sources: The published English language literature derived from MEDLINE covering epidemiological, pathogenetic and psychological aspects of "whiplash" injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, abnormal illness behaviour and iatrogenicity; the Australian legal literature; the printed news media; the Transport Accident Commission of Victoria and the State Government Insurance Commission of South Australia.
Data synthesis and conclusions: Comparative studies suggest that "whiplash" is an illness reinforced by legal and social sanction. Evidence from Victoria indicates that the reported incidence of "whiplash" can be reduced by minor legislative change. Occult injury to cervical intervertebral discs, vertebral end plates and cervical zygapophysial joints may be responsible for "whiplash" symptoms in some who are involved in motor vehicle accidents. This is likely to be confined to a small number of those involved in unexpected rear-end collisions.