During a rear-end collision, the head and torso are thrust in opposite directions in a very short period of time. So it is not surprising that most of the symptoms of whiplash are centered in that part of the body between the head and the torso — the neck.
The neck is made up of a complex network of bones, discs, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, and muscles — and all of them can be injured in a crash. The sections below discuss the anatomy of these types of injuries.
This is probably the most common type of injury from a crash. Muscle injury often heals quickly after whiplash, but in some cases, recovery can be more difficult. Scar tissue of the neck muscles can lead to nerve problems, like thoracic outlet syndrome.
The ligaments are the fibrous bands of tissue that hold the bones of the spine together, and a number of studies have shown that the ligaments can be stretched or torn from whiplash injury.
The discs are the "shock absorbers" of the spine, padding the space between the vertebrae. The discs can be injured when the spine is rapidly accelerated during whiplash. Disc injuries can result in numbness or tingling in the arms, and can even become herniated from a crash.
During a severe crash, the vertebrae themselves may fracture.
Many important blood vessels travel through the neck, and the medical literature has found that they can be injured during the violent motion that occurs during a crash.