It is the single most common complaint in whiplash trauma, being reported by over 90% of patients. Often this pain radiates across the shoulders, up into the head, and down between the shoulder blades. Whiplash injuries tend to affect all of the tissues in the neck, including the facet joints and discs between the vertebrae as well as all of the muscles, ligaments and nerves.
Facet joint pain is the most common cause of neck pain following a car accident and is felt just to the right or left of the center of the neck and is usually tender to the touch. Facet joint pain cannot be visualized on x-rays or MRIs, it can only be diagnosed by physical palpation of the area.
Disc injury is also a common cause of neck pain; especially chronic pain. The outer wall of the disc (called the annulus) is made up of bundles of fibers that can be torn during a whiplash trauma. These tears can lead to disc degeneration or herniation, resulting in irritation or compression of the nerves running through the area. This compression or irritation commonly leads to radiating pain into the arms, shoulders and upper back, and may result in muscle weakness.
Damage to the muscles and ligaments in the neck and upper back are the major cause of the pain experienced in the first few weeks following a whiplash injury, and is the main reason stiffness and restricted range of motion are experienced. As the muscles heal, they typically contribute to abnormal movement instead of pain. Damage to the ligaments often results in abnormal movement and instability.