Imagine yourself driving when a car behind you rear-ends your vehicle. The impact pushes your car forward. It takes about 100 milliseconds for your body to catch up to the forward movement. Your shoulders travel forward until they are under your head, and your neck extends forward as your head tilts slightly down toward your steering wheel. You step on the brakes, bringing the car to an abrupt halt. The sudden stop throws your head and neck backward, and they bounce against the headrest. In a matter of seconds, you’ve experienced the classic mechanism of injury for whiplash.
About 20 percent of people involved in rear-end collisions later experience symptoms that center in the neck region. Although most of these people recover quickly, a small number develop chronic conditions that result in severe pain and sometimes disability.