Conditions & Treatments

Whiplash Injury

Whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by the neck bending forcibly forward and then backward, or vice versa.

Whiplash Injury

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by the neck bending forcibly forward and then backward, or vice versa. The injury, which is poorly understood, usually involves the muscles, discs, nerves, and tendons in the neck.

What causes whiplash?

Most whiplash injuries are the result of a collision that includes sudden acceleration or deceleration. Many whiplash injuries occur when a person is involved in a rear-end automobile collision, or as a result of a sports injury, particularly during contact sports.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

The following are the most common symptoms of whiplash. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Neck pain

  • Neck stiffness

  • Dizziness

  • Ringing in ears

  • Blurred vision

  • Concentration or memory problems

  • Irritability

  • Sleeplessness

  • Tiredness

The symptoms of whiplash may resemble other conditions and medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is whiplash diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for whiplash may include the following (as many whiplash injuries include damage to soft tissue that can't be seen on X-rays):

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This diagnostic procedure uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and soft tissue structures within the body.

What is the treatment for whiplash?

Specific treatment for whiplash will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the injury

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the injury

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Ice applications for the first 24 hours

  • Cervical collar, with limited use (less than 3 hours at a time) 

  • Gentle, active movement after 24 hours

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications

  • Muscle relaxing medications

  • Physical therapy

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
  • Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention
    The Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging offers state-of-the-art diagnostic exams including MRI and CT, interpretation by specialty-trained radiologists, and image-guided procedures for the bones, joints, and spine.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Orthopaedics
    The MassGeneral Hospital for Children Orthopaedics Service provides clinical care to infants, children and adolescents, from birth to college age, for the entire spectrum of musculoskeletal problems.
Department of Medicine

  • Geriatric Inpatient Fracture Service (GiFTS)
    The Geriatric Inpatient Fracture Service (GiFTS) helps care for patients 65 years and older who are hospitalized because of orthopaedic injuries. Physicians from the Geriatric Medicine Unit work closely with physicians from the Orthopaedic Trauma Service along with staff from Nursing, Anesthesia, Physical Therapy, and Nutrition and Food Services to help patients avoid complications following surgery address underlying medical needs, strengthen overall health and provide patient and family-centered education.
Department of Orthopaedics

  • Spine Service
    Our Harvard Spine doctors use non-operative therapies as well as advanced surgical techniques to treat scoliosis, spinal disorders, and spinal deformities and injuries helping their patients can get back to doing the things they love.

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