Whiplash glossary

From finding out where your cervical spine is located to understanding WADs, the Thompsons Solicitors' Whiplash Glossary is a comprehensive guide to the terms used in relation to whiplash.

Acute pain - sudden, severe pain which comes on quickly, but lasts a relatively short period of time.

Acceleration/deceleration injury - injury caused due to impact forces, typically where the body is thrust forward and then backwards in quick succession.

Anterior - to the front.

Cervical spine - the uppermost section of the spine, supports the skull and protects the spinal cord in the neck.

Chronic pain - persistent pain which lasts over a prolonged period of time and is often resistant to pain relief and medical treatment.

CT or CAT scan - specialised X-ray tests to give clear pictures of the inside of the body; particularly useful for diagnosing soft tissue damage as this is not visible on ordinary X-rays.

Disc - see intervertebral disc.

Hyperextension - extension of a joint beyond the normal range of motion; in whiplash injury hyperextension of the neck occurs when the head is thrown back following impact.

Hyperflexion - movement of a joint beyond the normal range of motion; in rear-end shunt whiplash injury hyperflexion is caused when the head is thrown forward, typically following hyperextension.

Intervertebral disc - the soft pad between each vertebra of the spine. They act as shock absorbers and aid movement of the spine.

Lateral - to the side.

Ligament - fibrous connective tissue attaching bone to bone, serving to hold structures together and maintain stability.

MRI scan - magnetic resonance imaging using strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of internal structures inside the body.

Nerve - fibre or bundles of fibre as part of a complex system to convey impulses of sensation, movement, etc., between the brain, spinal cord and throughout the body.

Pain relief - alleviation of pain, typically through use of medication or application of physical therapies.

Physical trauma - damage or physical injury to biological organisms typically by physical means. Major trauma such as severe impact, gunshot wounds or knife wounds typically result in life-threatening injuries.

Posterior - to the rear, behind.

Prognosis - prediction of likely course and probable outcome following disease or injury.

Range of motion - the full potential movement range of a joint; the degree of flexion and extension.

Rear-end shunt - when a moving vehicle collides with the back of a stationary or slow moving vehicle; typical cause of whiplash injury.

Soft tissue damage/soft tissue injury (STI) - injury to muscles, ligaments and tendons anywhere in the body.

Spinal column - backbone, vertebral column or spine; the major skeletal supporting structure in the human body, made up of individual bones (vertebrae), allowing movement and offering protection to the spinal cord within the spinal canal.

Spinal cord - long, thin bundle of nerve tissue and support cells extending from the brainstem at the base of the skull to the lumbar region of the spinal column. Damage to the spinal column may cause pain, loss of feeling and paralysis.

Spinal disc herniation - in which a tear to an intervertebral disc causes the soft central part of the disc to bulge out. Typically caused by physical trauma and ageing, if the bulge presses on nerves or the spinal cord it can cause pain, tingling and weakness in associated parts of the body.

Sprain - also known as a torn ligament, occurs when a ligament is stretched torn or twisted, usually as a result of high forces or impact.

Strain - also known as a torn muscle, occurs when muscles are torn or stretched beyond their limits, also damage occurs if the muscle is forced to shorten (contract) to quickly.

Tendon - fibrous connective tissue attaching muscle to bone or muscles to structures e.g., the eye. Tendons aid movement of a bone or structure.

WAD - ‘whiplash associated disorders' is an umbrella term for a range of symptoms typical to whiplash injury victims. They are classified by the severity of signs and symptoms and are graded from Grade 0: no complaints or physical signs to Grade 4: neck complaints and fracture/dislocation.

Whiplash - the ‘whipping' motion associated with rear-end shunt accidents which causes soft tissue damage to the neck and cervical spine.

Whiplash compensation - an amount of financial damages paid out to the injured victim of a whiplash accident, where the incident was caused as a result of the negligence or recklessness of a third party.

Whiplash injury - soft tissue damage typically caused by hyperextension and hyperflexion of the neck as a result of acceleration/decelaration forces.


If you are suffering from whiplash injury following a car accident and you wish to know more about what you should do next, you can find out more by clicking through our Whiplash Information Centre pages.

To find out more about medical treatment of whiplash please click here.

To find out how much compensation you might receive, please click here.

And to find out more about the personal injury solicitors at Thompsons who could help you make a claim, please click here.

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