A type of neck injury caused by sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways

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Whiplash often occurs after sudden impact such as an unexpected blow to the head during sport or a road traffic accident. The vigorous movement of the head overstretches and damages the tendons (the fibrous bands that connect the muscles to the bone) and ligaments (the fibrous connective tissues that link two bones together at a joint) in the neck.

Need to know

It can take several days for the full symptoms of whiplash to develop. Common symptoms include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Tenderness over the neck muscles
  • Reduced and painful neck movements
  • Headaches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain in the shoulders and arms

Whiplash can usually be diagnosed by your consultant by detailing your symptoms and the circumstances of the trauma to the head and/or neck. They may also examine your neck for signs of muscle spasms, tenderness and assess the range of movement in your neck. If a fracture is suspected the following imaging tests may be carried out:

  • X-ray
  • CT or MRI scan

Whiplash usually gets better on its own or following some basic treatment. This may include:

  • Keeping your neck mobile and continuing with your normal activities. Using a neck brace isn't recommended
  • Over the counter painkillers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs if normal painkillers don't help
  • Physiotherapy, including specific exercises and stretches to be carried out on your own regularly

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.