Whiplash - Whiplash Syndrome

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Whiplash - Whiplash Syndrome
Whiplash - Whiplash Syndrome

Video: Whiplash - Whiplash Syndrome

Video: Whiplash - Whiplash Syndrome
Video: Cervical Whiplash | Trauma 2023, September


Whiplash (whiplash phenomenon, acceleration trauma of the cervical spine, cervical spine distortion) is a soft tissue injury in the area of the cervical spine (Cervical spine). It is caused by sudden, jerky bending and overstretching of the head as a result of an unexpected force. The most common cause are rear-end collisions. Typical complaints - usually not until some time after the accident - are neck pain and possibly headache and a "stiff neck". The severity of whiplash depends on a number of factors.


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  • What are the causes?
  • What symptoms can I experience with whiplash?
  • What can I do myself?
  • How is the diagnosis made?
  • How is whiplash treated?
  • Whom can I ask?
  • How are the costs going to be covered?

What are the causes?

Whiplash can occur if suddenly strong force acts on the cervical spine from behind or - less often - from the front or the side. This accelerates the head and neck segment in relation to the upper body. The head is initially jerked from front to back or vice versa or sideways and then jerked again in the opposite direction after the impact. The soft tissues of the cervical spine are injured as a result of the unforeseen application of force: the neck and neck muscles become tense and the cervical spine becomes painfully upright (“stiff neck”). In severe cases, the ligaments may be pulled and torn or the intervertebral discs may be injured.

Whiplash injuries usually arise from rear-end collisions in traffic. Other possible causes are sports accidents (especially when skiing, ice skating, boxing, karate, wrestling, diving) or so-called “pleasure accidents” such as roller coaster or bumper car rides.

What symptoms can I experience with whiplash?

A few hours to days after the accident, muscle strains and tissue swelling may cause pain in the neck area and lead to restricted mobility (“stiff neck”). It is not uncommon for those affected to complain of pain and a feeling of heaviness in the head area. Occasionally, dizziness, difficulty swallowing, problems seeing or sleeping, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), or numbness of the face, shoulders, or arms have also been reported.

How severe a whiplash injury is depends on various factors, for example:

  • Type and extent of violence;
  • muscular tension at the time of the accident;
  • Condition of the muscles (strong muscles are more resistant);
  • congenital anatomical differences: stocky people with shorter necks are less at risk than graceful people with long necks.

What can I do myself?

The neck area should be immobilized immediately after an accident. In addition, a general practitioner should be consulted, especially if the person is at fault. This is recommended not only for medical reasons, but also for insurance reasons.

How is the diagnosis made?

Whiplash cannot always be proven externally. Therefore, this clinical picture appears again and again highly controversial, especially in the case of third-party negligence with regard to possible compensation claims. A diagnosis that is as precise as possible is therefore necessary. In a conversation with the doctor, the cause and the complaints are determined. A physical exam will determine the exact extent of the disease. Determining eye mobility can provide clues for a concussion.

If necessary, accompanying injuries are found, for example on the spine, the bones or in the skull-brain area. This is usually done using x-rays. If an injury to the nervous system is suspected, neurological tests such as measuring nerve conduction velocity (NLG) or electrical activity in the muscles (EMG) may be required. In rare cases, an MRI or CT scan of the brain, an ultrasound scan of the large cervical artery, or an examination of the CSF may be necessary.


The international division is increasingly based on the Quebec Tasc Force. Cervical spine complaints are pain in the neck or neck muscles or in the passive musculoskeletal system.

A distinction is made between four degrees of severity of the injury, whereby the transitions are fluid:

  • Severity 0: no cervical spine complaints, no objectifiable failures.
  • Severity I: cervical spine complaints in the form of pain, a feeling of stiffness or hypersensitivity, no objectifiable failures.
  • Severity II: cervical spine complaints in the form of pain, a feeling of stiffness or hypersensitivity and complaints of the muscles and the skeleton (restricted movement, hypersensitivity to touch).
  • Severity III: cervical spine complaints in the form of pain, a feeling of stiffness or hypersensitivity and additional neurological complaints (weakened or abolished muscle reflexes, paralysis, etc.).
  • Severity IV: cervical spine complaints in the form of pain, a feeling of stiffness or hypersensitivity and fracture or misalignment of the cervical spine.

How is whiplash treated?

Therapy depends on the severity of the injury. In the case of minor injuries, it is sufficient to rest the neck for a short time. If necessary, anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs can be prescribed. More severe whiplash injuries are treated with physiotherapy.

As a rule, regardless of the severity of the whiplash, it will take about a month to heal. In around ten percent, the pain (especially in the neck area) lasts for several months to about half a year. In most cases, whiplash heals without any subsequent adverse effects. Only about two to three percent of those affected complain of severe symptoms two years after the injury.

Whom can I ask?

Patients can contact their general practitioner to clarify a whiplash injury. Sometimes further examinations are necessary, e.g. with a specialist in orthopedics or trauma surgery.

How are the costs going to be covered?

All necessary and appropriate therapies are covered by the health insurance carriers. Your doctor or the outpatient clinic will generally settle accounts directly with your health insurance provider. With certain health insurance providers, however, you may have to pay a deductible (BVAEB, SVS, SVS, BVAEB). However, you can also use a doctor of your choice (ie doctor without a health insurance contract) or a private outpatient clinic. For more information, see Costs and Deductibles.