An accident that happens in seconds can cause whiplash pain that persists for years, severely impacting your sleep, your level of activity and your ability to enjoy life. But Hoag has what it takes to help you heal. At Hoag Spine Institute, we aim to provide the most conservative treatment options available to ensure the best possible outcome for every patient, including those suffering from sudden or chronic spinal injuries due to whiplash. You don't have to hurt. Trust Hoag.

Need Whiplash Treatment? Orange County Trusts Hoag for Advanced Spinal Care.

Whiplash can happen in an instant. But without the right care, the pain might be with you for a long time.

Orange County’s Hoag Spine Institute stands ready to help those who are impacted by this often-painful condition. Cases of whiplash, treated by our fellowship-trained team of experts, can be easily managed. We specialize in the techniques and pain management strategies that can treat whiplash and improve your quality of life. At Hoag, we’re committed to providing the resources, support and treatment options those with spine issues need to recover quickly and get back to doing what they love most.

Read on for what you need to know about whiplash injury, including definitions, causes and common symptoms. And if you need a healthcare provider in Orange County that is dedicated to your recovery and peace of mind at every step of your treatment journey, trust Hoag to help you heal. Contact us today at 949-764-1411 or through our online form.

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a neck injury that can result from the neck bending forcibly forward and backward, usually due to a sudden movement, jolt or impact from behind. It’s called whiplash because the violent movement of the head and neck that can cause a whiplash injury is much like the cracking of a whip.

Whiplash is most commonly caused by a rear-impact car accident, but the condition can also be caused by a variety of other factors, including a full-contact sports injury, a fall or physical abuse and assault.

Depending on the severity of the injury, whiplash can cause limitation in the neck’s range of motion, induce muscle spasms in the neck and arms, and cause neck stiffness and chronic pain. It is a fairly common injury, affecting millions of Americans every year.

While most people with a whiplash injury recover within a few weeks through conservative treatments such as physical therapy and pain relief medications, some patients may continue to suffer from the symptoms of whiplash for several months or longer.

What Can Cause Whiplash?

Common causes of whiplash include:

A Rear-End Automobile Collision

The most common cause of whiplash is being involved in a car accident, particularly a rear-end automobile collision in which a vehicle is struck from behind. During a car accident, the sudden force of the collision can rock your body forcibly in one direction.

While safety measures like seatbelts prevent your torso from continuing to move, your head and neck are far less stable in a crash. When a vehicle is struck from behind, that can result in the sudden, powerful movement characteristic of whiplash. That can put immense strain on the muscles of the neck, stretching them beyond their usual capacity. The result can be a whiplash injury.

Modern cars are much better at preventing injury in an accident, including features like padded, adjustable headrests to cushion the head in a rear-impact collision. But failure to use seat belts properly or to adjust your vehicle’s seat in order to promote good posture can leave an individual more vulnerable to whiplash or other forms of neck sprain in a collision.

Sport Injuries

Many whiplash injuries occur due to an accidental blow to the head during contact sports like boxing, basketball or American football. While these sports often use padding and protective gear to reduce the risk of injury to the head and shoulders, the neck is often left unprotected in order to guarantee the full range of motion necessary for good athletic performance. This leaves the neck vulnerable to the violent head movements that can cause a whiplash injury.

Physical Abuse or Assault

Whiplash injuries can occur when an individual is punched, slapped or experiences a sudden jolt to the head due to physical violence, which can cause traumatic strain on the muscles of the neck.

Additionally, being forcibly shaken by another person can also result in whiplash. In fact, a whiplash injury is often one of the injuries seen in cases of what’s called shaken baby syndrome.

Other Causes of Whiplash
  • Being hit on the head by a heavy object.
  • Slipping and falling in such a way that the neck becomes injured.
  • Suffering from a jolting injury on a rollercoaster or carnival ride, particularly when an individual is older or has risk factors of whiplash.

What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Whiplash injuries have a number of common symptoms which can persist for a few weeks or months. Without treatment, many of these issues can become long-term problems.

Symptoms of whiplash may include:

Neck Pain

Following the initial injury, whiplash can cause persistent pain in the neck that can range from mild to severe. This persistent pain, which does not go away even after a good night’s rest or some gentle exercises, is often the most noticeable symptom of whiplash. In some cases, any attempt to rotate or move the neck may result in flare-ups of severe pain. In less severe cases, conservative treatments like over the counter medications, wearing a cervical collar that supports the head or visiting a physical therapist often help. In more severe cases, patients can experience long-term pain in the neck.

Blurred Vision

While the reason why is not fully understood, there is a connection between whiplash and blurred, spotty vision. One possible reason that this can occur is that whiplash causes a disruption in the muscle reflexes of the neck. These reflexes allow your eyes to remain stable even as the head and neck move. After a whiplash injury, these reflexes can be disrupted, causing doubled, blurred vision.

Neck Stiffness

The neck strain caused by the neck bending forcibly in one direction can cause the muscles of the neck to become tender and stiff. This is because of the nature of a whiplash injury, which is essentially a sprain of the neck muscles. As with any other type of muscle sprain, the result can be weaker, tight muscles which lack the mobility they had before.

Other Symptoms

Other common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • Headaches, often starting at the base of the skull.
  • Numbness and tingling in the soft tissue of the arms or shoulders.
  • Upper and lower back pain.
  • Jaw pain.
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
  • Memory loss.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

What Are the Risk Factors for Whiplash?

Whiplash injuries are usually caused by a rear-end vehicle collision. Therefore, the biggest risk factor for whiplash is regularly driving a vehicle in stop-and-go traffic where a person might be struck from behind.

However, there are other issues that can increase the risk of experiencing whiplash. These may include:


Women have an increased likelihood of developing whiplash, especially after an automobile accident. This may be due to gender-related differences in structure of the cervical spinal column, which are the first seven vertebrae of the spine which make up the neck. Vehicle design could also be responsible, due to car interiors not being well designed for the lower average height of women, which may reduce the effectiveness of head restraints and other protective devices, leaving the neck vulnerable to whiplash.

Having a Prior Neck Injury

A previous injury to the neck can cause long-lasting muscle, ligament, nerve and bone injuries. While these injuries may not cause pain or any other observable symptoms, they can increase the vulnerability of the neck’s soft tissues. Because whiplash primarily affects the neck’s soft tissues, these prior injuries may make people with previous injuries more vulnerable to experiencing whiplash.

Normal Aging

The natural aging process is a contributing factor in many whiplash injuries. Degeneration of the cervical spine (the topmost seven vertebrae, which make up the neck) can make the neck more vulnerable to injury, including whiplash. As well, stiffness of the muscles and joints, especially when combined with a lack of regular physical activity, can make an older person more vulnerable to whiplash.

Is There Any Way to Reduce My Risk of Whiplash?

Because whiplash almost always occurs due to an unpredictable, sudden injury, it’s probably impossible to entirely prevent whiplash. However, there are ways you might be able to reduce your risk of whiplash. These include:

  • Practice good posture when driving: To maintain proper posture while driving, ensure your steering wheel aligns with your chest, not your face or abdomen. Maintain bent arms with your thumbs resting on the steering wheel’s rim, with your hands at the 10 and 2 position if the wheel was a clock face. Sit upright in the seat to provide adequate support for your back and shoulders, and to position your head close to the padded headrest available in most modern vehicles.
  • Practice good driving habits: Along with correct posture, practicing good driving habits can be helpful in preventing whiplash. Minimize the risk of being forced to suddenly stop by keeping a good distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you. Also, try not to “slam on the brakes” in traffic unless it is an emergency situation. These choices can lower the risk of being in rear-end automobile collisions which commonly cause whiplash.

Looking for a Whiplash Specialist? In Orange County, Hoag Is Your Home For Advanced Care for the Spine.

While it’s often played for laughs in the movies, a whiplash injury is no joke. Without the right treatment plan, whiplash can even lead to long-term, debilitating issues like chronic neck pain, headaches and blurred vision. It can impact your life, your sleep, your work and what you like to do.

But with the Hoag Spine Institute in your corner, you’ve got what it takes to come back strong from a whiplash injury. Our multi-disciplinary team of nationally recognized experts is committed to offering the most compassionate, patient-focused care for the spine, including injuries related to whiplash, in Orange County.

At Hoag, our multi-disciplinary team of experts wields the latest technology to diagnose and treat a range of spine issues, including low back pain, congenital spine deformities and traumatic injuries. Our goal is excellence in everything we do, because that’s what it takes to help Orange County residents overcome the chronic pain and reduced function that often go hand-in-hand with issues involving the spine.

Do you need diagnosis and treatment for whiplash in Irvine, Aliso Viejo, Fountain Valley, Tustin, Corona Del Mar or other communities across Orange County? From conservative treatments like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation to our comprehensive, patient-focused physical therapy programs, we’re ready to find the source of the pain and help you heal.

To learn more about Hoag Spine Institute, or to schedule a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation with a Hoag spine care specialist, please contact us today at 949-764-1411 or through our online form.

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