What Happens to Your Neck in a Whiplash Car Accident Injury?

November 28, 2017
Legally Reviewed By Attorney Rand Spear, Esq.

Whiplash is one of the most common types of car accident injuries. According to Rush Medical Center, about 2 million Americans suffer a whiplash injury every year. Unfortunately, whiplash can lead to lifelong pain and disability. The Journal of Chiropractic Medicine states that whiplash injuries cost about $2.7 billion every year.

But what exactly are whiplash injuries? What happens to your neck when you’re involved in a whiplash car accident injury? If you have suffered a neck injury in a motor vehicle accident, it’s important to understand your injury and what you can expect as you recover.

What Is a Whiplash Injury?

Whiplash is so common that many people assume they know exactly what it means. Medically, whiplash is known as “cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) syndrome.” If you took high school physics, you know that acceleration means speeding up and deceleration refers to slowing down.

When whiplash occurs, the injured victim’s neck and head are quickly and suddenly thrust backward and then forward, causing the cervical spine — which is the portion of the spine in the upper back, located just under the head — to experience extreme stresses.

As Dr. Zinovy Meyler of Spine Health points out, car accidents are the most common cause of whiplash, but the injury can also occur in other types of accidents, such as football injuries, falls while skiing, or any activity that involves rapid acceleration followed by fast deceleration. Because the forces involved in a car accident are so violent, car accident whiplash injuries tend to be the most severe.

If you could view a whiplash car accident in slow motion, you would see a sequence of events as follows:

The car is struck from behind – When the car is hit from the rear, the driver’s seat gets pushed forcefully against their back, which actually drives force up the spinal column and into the cervical spine.

The torso moves forward but the spine does not – As the torso is thrust away from the seat, it keeps moving forward, but the head stays behind. This unnatural motion forces the lordosis curve (the cervical spine’s regular C-shape) into an S-curve, which is not the cervical spine’s natural shape. The forces from this jarring movement can cause an abnormal compression of the discs, joints, and other parts of the cervical spine.

The head slams into the seat – As the torso accelerates forward, the head slams violently backward into the seat. This can lead to soft tissue injuries in the front of the neck.

The head bounces off the seat – The head now recoils away from the seat and is thrust forward at a violent pace.

The seatbelt restrains the person’s body – If the person is wearing a seatbelt, the belt restrains the body. This is a good thing, however, it keeps the torso stationary while the head accelerates forward. This is the whip-like motion people describe when they refer to whiplash. This violent and unnatural movement can lead to soft tissue injuries in the back of the neck.

Some people mistakenly assume that an automobile accident that occurs at slow or moderate speeds is unlikely to cause a whiplash injury. The reality is that even a low-speed car accident can result in a severe whiplash injury to the driver. Cars today are manufactured to withstand extreme impact forces, and they may not show obvious signs of an accident.

However, the human body is not engineered to absorb the violent impacts of a car accident. The cervical spine is vulnerable to even low impact forces, and a whiplash injury can occur even when the vehicles involved in the crash show little or no signs of damage.

What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Someone who has sustained a whiplash injury will almost certainly experience neck pain and should promptly see a medical professional. Other complaints involve a pins-and-needles sensation in the neck and spine, which can be the result of nerve damage. Some people also experience stiffness and difficulty turning their head. In many cases, the pain from the whiplash injury even migrates from the neck down the shoulder and into the arms.

More serious whiplash injuries can involve debilitating symptoms. These serious whiplash injury symptoms include extreme pain, difficulty maintaining balance, lack of coordination, weakness in the arms, and mental health issues.

Many whiplash injury victims have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep due to chronic pain that makes it difficult to find a comfortable resting position. Whiplash can even interfere with an individual’s work, as it can be difficult for injury victims to stay upright for long periods of time.

Whether a person sits at a desk all day or performs manual labor at a construction site, whiplash is an injury that can change an individual’s life, force them to take time off work, and stop them from enjoying time with friends and loved ones.


  1. https://www.livescience.com/54566-whiplash.html
  2. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/what-whiplash

Contact a Philadelphia Car Accident Injury Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one has been injured by a vehicle accident, get in touch with a Pennsylvania burn injury lawyer right away. Contact Philadelphia and New Jersey accident injury lawyer Rand Spear today at 877-GET-RAND.