The term whiplash was used historically to describe the movement of the neck during the injury phase of a crash. More recent research shows that the movement of the neck is more complicated than the motion of whip.
When the head is suddenly jerked back and forth beyond its normal limits, the muscles and ligaments that support the spine and head can be overstretched or torn. The soft, pulpy discs between spinal bones can bulge, tear or rupture. Vertebrae can be forced out of their normal position, reducing range of motion. The spinal cord and nerve roots in the neck can get stretched and irritated. While occupants can suffer considerable soft tissue injury, the car may only be slightly damaged.
During an accident the head and neck of the injured person is accelerated 3 to 5 times faster than the acceleration of the car. This sudden change in speed (about 1/10 of second) produces the damage to the structures (muscles, nerves, ligaments, etc.) and causes neck pain and other problems.
The resulting instability of the spine and soft tissues can cause headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, pain in the shoulder, arms and hands, reduced ability to turn and bend, and even low back problems. As the body attempts to adapt, symptoms may not appear for weeks or even months later. Dr. Smith will recommend a series of visits to help restore proper motion and position of the spinal bones. If caught early enough, inflammation can be reduced and scar tissue can often be minimized.
When people think of whiplash they think of neck pain. There are several other symptoms that accompany neck pain, however. There may be headaches, jaw pain, shoulder pain, arm pain, hand pain, numbness and tingling, as well as brain injuries. Brain injuries may show up as memory loss, irritability, insomnia, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), concentration problems, etc. Patients may also have pain in other parts of their bodies other than the neck pain. Lower back pain is also common in car crashes, as are leg injuries from hitting the dashboard or other structures in the car.