Do I have whiplash? - Causes and Symptoms

First coined in 1928, the term 'whiplash' is often used to mean almost any injury to the neck.

More accurately whiplash is a term used to describe a neck injury caused by a sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways. The vigorous movement of the head damages the ligaments and tendons in the neck.

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Causes of whiplash

Caused by the head being moved forward, backward or side-to-side in a sudden, violent manner, whiplash is often the result of a sudden impact.

Most whiplash injuries occur through vehicle collisions, but may be a result of sporting accidents, or through slips or falls.

Road accidents are the most common cause of whiplash, but it can also occur following:

  • a sudden blow to the head - for example, during contact sports such as boxing or rugby
  • a violent twist or wrench - for example, during a workout at the gym or bungee jumping
  • a slip or fall where the head is suddenly and violently jolted backwards
  • being struck on the head by a heavy or solid object

According to one leading insurer:

"whiplash accounts for 76% of all bodily injury claims made in the UK."

Whiplash tends to affect women more than men.

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Symptoms of whiplash

Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • neck pain and stiffness
  • tenderness over the neck muscles
  • reduced mobility and painful neck movements
  • headaches

Symptoms can be delayed

After an accident, the symptoms of whiplash usually take a 6-12 hours to develop.

The neck pain and stiffness is often worse on the day after the injury and may worsen further for several days afterwards.

The sudden movements may damage tendons and soft tissue in the neck and spine, causing severe pain and muscle spasms.

Does whiplash affect other parts of the body than the neck?

Other symptoms may include:

  • frequent or persistent headaches
  • backache
  • dizziness and/or blurry vision
  • nausea
  • pins and needles in the arms
  • ringing in the ears.

If there has been damage to the nerves in the neck and spine there may also be numbness in the hands and feet.

Symptoms may not always occur immediately after the accident - they may be delayed for hours and possibly several days or weeks later.

Some symptoms - such as those from a minor jolt to the neck - may improve within a few days, but more serious cases might cause pain for six or more months.

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Infant whiplash injury symptoms

A young child, baby or toddler will have difficulty expressing that they have sustained a whiplash injury, and there may be no visible marks to suggest the child is injured.

Symptoms to watch out for in the days after an accident that may indicate infant whiplash include:

  • stiffness and reduced neck movement
  • nausea and dizziness
  • changes to the baby's mood or sleeping patterns.
Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

About the author

Gaynor Haliday is an experienced legal researcher and published author. She has had numerous articles published in the press and is a legal industry commentator.

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