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A whiplash injury occurs when the head and neck are suddenly impacted by rapid force and pressure causing them to move backward and forwards.

The snapping action is called whiplash because it resembles the action of cracking a whip; it is a fast and forceful event. A typical whiplash injury occurs to occupants of a vehicle when struck from behind. Their heads and necks move sharply backward then snap forward in an uncontrolled way. The force of the event damages the bones, soft tissues, ligaments, and tendons in the neck or cervical spine.