The mechanism of injury for whiplash is acceleration of the head and neck relative to the body. It usually results from the collision of two automobiles, but can also result from contact or high-velocity sports such as football or skiing.
The patient will generally feel very little pain or stiffness immediately after the accident. As the large muscles swell and develop spasm, the patient will note onset of muscle soreness, stiffness, and swelling. Active range of motion will be limited with muscle spasm associated. As the larger muscles heal and are no longer swollen or tender the original pain is replaced by deep, aching pain that may be referred to the head, the upper back, or the upper limb. The range of motion will continue to improve as the tissues heal.
Initially the goal of treatment is to allow the muscles to rest and heal without becoming stiff. The patient will be advised about using heat/ice at home, the use of a soft neck collar, active range of motion exercises and education regarding the injury. Further treatments will include joint mobilizations, a stretching and strengthening program, and posture re-training if needed.