Symptom, Causes and Diagnosis of Whiplash

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What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a condition where you experience a neck injury from sudden movement. While its name may seem to refer to a single concept, it can give rise to a wide range of conditions. Additionally, there is no restriction in the direction of the movement that can cause this condition. It can occur as long as the incident is forceful and rapid, resulting in the neck bending beyond its normal range without any restraint.

Most of these injuries are caused by car collisions, sports accidents, and falls. This injury usually involves the bones and soft tissues of your neck, with the damage potentially affecting the nerves, muscles, ligaments and tendons too, depending on the severity. The treatments for whiplash can range from rest and pain medication to injections and physiotherapy, which will be recommended based on your symptoms and a doctor’s examination.

Whiplash | Avant Orthopaedics

What are the Different Grades of Whiplash?

Whiplash-associated disorder (WAD) is a term used to describe neck injuries caused by sudden movements. Under WAD, injuries are often classified on a scale using the Quebec Task Force’s classification system which has five different categories:


  • Grade 0

There is no neck pain, stiffness, or any physical sign of neck injury.


  • Grade 1

There are complaints of neck pain, stiffness, and tenderness but there are no signs of physical injury.


  • Grade 2

In addition to neck pain, there are musculoskeletal signs such as decreased range of motion and point tenderness in the neck.


  • Grade 3

There are also neurological signs, including decreased or absent tendon reflexes, muscle weakness, and sensory deficits.


  • Grade 4

There is a fracture or dislocation as confirmed by imaging studies.

What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

This can range from dull aches to sharp pains. Neck pain may not only be confined to the neck as it may radiate down the shoulder into your arm to hand. It may also get worse with neck movement and be accompanied by stiffness.

Dizziness in the event of a whiplash can be caused by inflammation or nerve damage in the neck. It may also be accompanied by unsteadiness as the individual may struggle to orient themselves when walking or maintaining their balance. In some cases, whiplash can lead to a type of dizziness known as cervical vertigo. This occurs due to a mismatch of signals from the neck and the vestibular system, a sensory system which coordinates movement with balance, leading to lightheadedness and a feeling of being unsteady. There is also a need to exclude head injury in such instances as often during a whiplash, the victim’s head may have hit a hard surface like the car dashboard or hard ground during a sports injury.

Headaches caused by whiplash will manifest as pain in the back of the head where it meets the neck. This may be caused by a strain or sprain of the ligaments in the neck with actions such as moving the head potentially causing discomfort to worsen. Again, a concurrent head injury may have to be excluded.

A neck injury from sudden movement may cause one of the spinal nerve roots to become compressed or inflamed. This can lead to numbness or tingling in the neck which can spread to the shoulder, arm, or hand.

Common Causes of Whiplash | Avant Orthopaedics

What are the Common Causes of Whiplash?

A common cause of whiplash is rear-end car collisions. This is because in the event of such an incident, there is a chance for sudden and vigorous head movement in one direction. While car collisions can be unpredictable, there are measures you can take to reduce the risk of a neck injury from sudden movement in these unfortunate events.


This can include having a correctly positioned head restraint which the top of it should be level with at least the top of your ears. You should also ensure your seatbelt is fastened and you are sitting upright, as it can help you stay in position during an accident and limit the severity of injuries.

Contact sports such as rugby or football can cause whiplash when a player experiences sudden and rapid tackles. Players in these sports can lower their risk of whiplash through the use of protective equipment, and adherence to safety guidelines.

Falls can also result in whiplash, although they are not commonly associated with the condition as much as car collisions or contact sports. When a person falls, especially from heights or with significant force, there is a chance for their head and neck to be suddenly and forcefully moved. For example, if an individual were to slip and fall, their body may twist as they land, leading to their head and neck being affected in a whiplash-like manner.

How is Whiplash Diagnosed?

Your doctor may palpate the affected area to feel for pain and tenderness, as well as, move your head, neck, and arms. They may also ask questions regarding the symptoms you are experiencing, along with details of how the injury took place. You might be subjected to in-office tests to gauge your reflexes, and muscle power, and if you are experiencing any abnormal sensations.

This imaging technique shows the bones in your body and is used to identify the location and extent of a fracture. It will help in determining if the cause of your symptoms is due to whiplash or another condition.

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of soft tissues in your body. It is used to identify if there is any potential damage done to the muscles, ligaments, or intervertebral discs. The MRI also can detect spinal cord and spinal nerve root injuries including impingement.

A CT scan uses computers and rotation X-ray machines to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the soft tissues, blood vessels, and bones, in various parts of the body. When it comes to whiplash, this scan may be used to assess the neck for fractures, dislocations, and other abnormalities.

Are You or a Loved One Suffering from Whiplash | Avant Orthopaedics

Are You or a Loved One Suffering from Whiplash?

Whiplash can cause neck pain, headaches, and dizziness, and may even affect your quality of sleep if the symptoms are persistent. If you or a loved one is suffering from this condition, contact us at Avant Orthopaedics for a personalised consultation and to learn more about the available treatments.

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