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When to Seek Medical Treatment for Whiplash

Whiplash is a neck sprain that occurs when the neck experiences hyperextension and hyperflexion, or for those of us who don’t speak in medical terms, when the head forcefully moves backward and then forward. In most cases, whiplash is caused during car accidents, such as a rear-end collision when force from the accident propels the neck forward. Each year, it is estimated that approximately 3 million people across America are affected by whiplash.

Causes of Whiplash

Although car accidents are the leading cause of whiplash in most people, whiplash can also be caused by several other situations, such as one of the below:

  • Falling
  • Sports
  • Being shaken
  • A punch or blow to the head

What Happens During Whiplash


As an important part of the spine, the neck, also referred to as the cervical spine, is made up of spinal bones called vertebrae, intervertebral discs, muscles, ligaments and nerves. When whiplash occurs, the sudden impact forces the neck’s lower vertebrae one way and the upper vertebrae another way, creating an S-shaped curve. This unnatural position damages the soft tissues of the neck, such as the ligaments, muscles, and tendons.

Symptoms of Whiplash

For most whiplash sufferers, the number one symptom is neck pain. However, there are other symptoms that may be present, such as the following:

  • Muscle tenderness or stiffness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion and memory issues
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Ear ringing

When to Contact a Doctor for Whiplash

For most whiplash sufferers, symptoms tend to last for one to two months. In extreme cases, whiplash consequences can last up to two years. Whiplash can even be traced to other injuries, like joint, disc and ligament damage. Therefore, if you have been in an accident or suffered an injury and fear you may have whiplash, it is best to consult a spine expert. Even if your symptoms are mild, it is recommended to seek medical attention as symptoms may develop over time. Additionally, consult a doctor immediately if you experience any numbness, tingling or weakness around your neck or upper back, or if the pain spreads down to your arms or shoulders.

Learn More

If you are experiencing whiplash and are looking for relief from your symptoms, contact Pacific Spine Specialists today. Dr. Timothy Keenen is an expert, board certified spine surgeon who will diagnose and make treatment recommendations or a refer you to another specialist for treatment using conservative, effective measures. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.