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Whiplash is a general non-medical term used to describe pain and symptoms to the neck after a sudden jolting or forced type movement to the head and or neck. It is often referred to as a forced flexion-extension injury and is most commonly caused by a car accident.

Whiplash refers to injuries sustained to the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the neck which are collectively referred to as soft-tissue injuries. Whiplash occurs when the soft tissues are subjected to a force that takes them beyond the normal range of motion causing damage to the tissues involved.



Although the most common cause of whiplash is a car accident other causes include:

  • Sudden blows to the head causing unprotected movement of the neck. This can occur in contact sports, falls or even an assault.
  • Sudden changes in the direction of head and neck movement can also occur on roller coaster type rides, sporting accidents and even sudden braking without an impact.
  • Whiplash injuries sustained during car accidents are not related to the speed of the accident and may be caused by relatively low speeds.

Whiplash Symptoms


  • Pain and stiffness are classic symptoms which are typically made worse by movement.
  • Reduced range of spinal movement due to pain, muscular spasm and stiffness.
  • Pain, ache and tenderness over the top and back of the shoulders (trapezius muscles)
  • Headache is common.
  • Symptoms may take several days to fully develop after the incident



You should seek medical opinion if you suspect a head or neck injury for a correct diagnosis.

Although occasionally more serious signs and symptoms can occur following a whiplash, if you are diagnosed with uncomplicated whiplash then some self-help measures may help ease the pain and discomfort:

  • Your GP may be able to prescribe some pain relieving medication.
  • Ice / cold packs applied up to the first 48-72 hours can help reduce and limit tissue swelling and pain. Ice / cold should not be placed over the front of the neck.
  • Heat can be used after this to help relax muscle spasm.
  • The use of a soft collar can help alleviate the initial pain as it will assist in supporting the injured soft tissues.