What are the Effects of Whiplash?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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The effects of whiplash include soreness and tenderness in the neck, head, and back, along with neurological problems like ringing ears and visual disturbances. Some patients also have psychological whiplash symptoms, such as irritability, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. When a patient incurs an injury involving the spine and head, a thorough medical evaluation is necessary to determine the nature and extent of the injury, and to develop an appropriate treatment plan, keeping in mind that people can experience long-term health problems.

In whiplash injuries, the head is subjected to a sudden acceleration, followed by a rapid deceleration. The most common cause is a car accident, where patients may slam forward or backward and then bounce in the other direction as they hit the steering column or headrest. Certain kinds of sports injuries can follow a similar pattern. Safety measures like wearing seatbelts and driving in cars with airbags can help prevent whiplash.

Immediately after the accident, people may notice pain and tenderness in the spine, lower skull, and upper back. These symptoms can grow worse over time. The neck may become stiff, limiting the range of motion, and can swell, sometimes causing extreme discomfort. The effects of whiplash often include back pain spreading into the lower back, headache associated with mild brain injury, and feelings of fatigue or unusually heavy limbs. Patients who start sleeping much more than usual or appearing disoriented and confused may have brain injuries, and should see a neurologist.


Some patients experience whiplash-related blurred vision, double vision, dizziness, and ringing ears. They may onset within minutes or hours of the accident. If patients experience psychological problems like depression, irritability, and other behavioral changes, these may take days or weeks after the injury to onset. Patients can also feel isolated and alone because they may need to rest after the accident, making it harder to get around and interact with people.

Treatment for the effects of whiplash can include wearing a brace to stabilize the spine, taking medications to address inflammation and pain, and undergoing gentle physical therapy to develop strength and flexibility in the neck. Sometimes, surgery is necessary to treat hairline fractures, ruptured discs, and other problems in the head and neck. It is important to receive a detailed medical examination to check for potential complications, and to attend follow-up appointments to monitor the progress of healing and see if additional treatment is necessary. For psychological effects of whiplash, medications and therapy may both be beneficial.


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Discuss this Article

Post 6

@aishia - Don't worry, whiplash can't paralyze you. Any injury that would have damaged your neck enough to paralyze you would have happened during the incident that led to whiplash, not afterward as the whiplash developed. I know it can be especially scary and freaky to have your neck swell up and feel horribly painful, but this is just your body's reaction to being injured, not new injury.

My sister once got whiplash after being the passenger in one of two cars involved in an accident. We are twins, and you know I never bought any of those theories about twins feeling each other's pain or injuring each other at the same time until the next week...when I, too

, got whiplash.

You don't just go out and get into a chance car accident out of sympathy, so it's not like I did it on purpose to match my twin. I honestly don't know how it happened, but it did. At least we were both cheered during our recoveries knowing what the other was going through.

Post 5

@Domido - I would demand to be treated seriously for any condition that can cause long term health problems, and whiplash is in fact one of those conditions. Whiplash pain is pretty awful -- and I can say that from experience, too -- and for those with anxiety, you may worry that you have somehow injured your spinal cord and could end up paralyzed.

I know I worried about this. Neck and back injuries are serious business, and I will always go to the doctor rather than leave one alone. It's just too scary to imagine being paralyzed just for ignoring warning signs from what seems like a very uncomfortable but relatively harmless condition.

Post 4

@mabeT - Wow, sounds like these unnamed individuals really wanted that compensation claim check. It also sounds a bit like a few comedy routines I've seen -- I guess it's true that art imitates life!

Whiplash does not sound at all fun, and I think if you had it it would be clear to see on your face hat it was painful just to move or stand for a long time. I wonder if they just threw on neck braces and threw the word "whiplash" around or actually looked up the condition and tried to act like they were really hurt?

Post 3

@Domido - Yeah, I know what you mean. I think what mabeT described might also be part of why doctors shrug off whiplash -- people often exaggerate and say they have it to try and garner sympathy from a court and win a case to sue the other person involved in the accident.

That makes it lousy for the poor people who actually do get whiplash, though, because suspicious people could treat them like they're faking...

Personally, I think the words "mild brain injury" in this article are particularly scary. Whiplash moves your neck so hard it slaps your brain around in your skull and people shrug it off as nothing serious? What's the world coming to?

Post 2

I shall not say who I am speaking of exactly, although this was a long time ago. But let’s just say that I might have known some people who falsified some insurance claims.

I was just a kid at the time, and I had no idea what was going on. (What can I say? I’ve lived a colorful life.)

These folks were legitimately in a car accident. Never mind that the whole dog gone thing was staged; they really were in an accident even if it was planned out to a tee.

They all did the whole emergency room visit thing. Everyone came home and seemed fine to me. You could say they were cheerful even.

That is until they all had to go to court a little bit down the road. You’ve never seen so many neck braces, canes and slings come out of nowhere in your entire life! Everybody was hobbling and looking all pitiful.

It seems someone at court should have realized that most folks don’t keep whiplash for weeks, but I’m thinking maybe the judge got a slice of the pie, too.

Post 1

I’ve always got the impression that people don’t take whiplash injury very seriously; it’s almost like they think you’re good to go if you get in a car accident and walk away with whiplash.

I’m here to say that that mess hurts. I was in a wreck where my car was rear ended and pushed into the car in front of me. I felt fine at the scene, but you better believe I was feeling the pain a few hours later.

I was told I only had whiplash, and that made me want to attack the doctor who informed me it was ‘only’ a whiplash injury and nothing major.

Don’t get me wrong; I was and still

am thankful there was nothing more serious up.

However, it was more than a little irritating for my condition to be made light of when my head felt like it was going to explode, I couldn’t turn my head and my back felt like someone had beat me with their size thirty stiletto, steal toe boots.

Whiplash is a painful thing, I must say.

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