Whiplash is one of the most common injuries associated with car accidents. Technically, whiplash is a type of neck strain or neck sprain that occurs as a result of a sudden, back-and-forth motion of the spine and neck. It’s possible for almost any kind of car accident to cause whiplash, but the most frequent culprit is the rear-end collision. When one car slams into another from behind, the people in the leading vehicle get shoved forward and then, assuming they are wearing seatbelts, violently snapped back to the seat. This action makes the spine behave much like a whip being cracked (hence the name “whiplash”).

Many cases of whiplash are mild and heal completely within a few days, but some cases can be quite severe. At first, whiplash victims may not notice that anything is wrong. Symptoms can take up to 24 hours to set in, and can become more severe over time. Initial symptoms like general stiffness and bruising can get much worse as a result of swelling. Additionally, some sufferers can incur additional injuries by trying to overcompensate for their injured necks. For example, a whiplash patient might be so focused on protecting his neck when lifting an object that he overtaxes his lower back.

In the most severe cases, whiplash can lead to months of disability and pain. Painkillers can reduce the symptoms, but rest is the only proven cure for whiplash. As a result, many accident victims lose weeks or months of wages because they are unable to work. This is especially true of people who work on their feet. Prolonged periods of standing and walking can be impossible for people with serious neck strains.

Besides painkillers and muscle relaxants, whiplash sufferers can also benefit from massage, acupuncture and physical therapy. Chiropractic treatments can be beneficial in some cases, too. Wearing a neck brace can weaken the muscles connected to the spine and increase the risk of future injuries, so many victims need to undergo regular therapy to build their strength up again.