Whiplash – What is it? Symptoms & Treatment

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What causes Whiplash?

Whiplash most commonly occurs in car accidents as result of sudden deceleration i.e. a sudden movement of the head either forward, backward or sideways.

Whiplash occurs when the ligaments in the spine are stretched and strained after the body is thrown in a sudden, forceful jerk. Although whiplash most commonly occurs in car crashes involving sudden braking, the injury can also occur in other circumstances such as a sudden blow to the head or slip or fall.
What does whiplash feel like?

The most common whiplash complaints are:

  • Headaches
  • Pain or stiffness in the neck and/or the back of the head
  • Neck swelling or tenderness
  • Reduction in or loss of movement in neck

Other symptoms of whiplash can include:

  • Pain, numbness or pins and needles in the arms or hands
  • Muscle spasms
  • Lower back pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

These symptoms of whiplash usually appear within the first couple of days after the accident and can last for several months and in extreme cases years.
Is whiplash dangerous?

You should alert a doctor/medical staff if you experience memory loss or periods of unconsciousness after a collision. This is especially the case if the patient experiences severe pains in the back of the head, pins and needles in the arms or shoulders or the sensation of heaviness in the arms.
Is there anything the patient can do about whiplash injury?

The NHS Direct website recommends


“As soon as possible after the injury occurs apply an ice pack to the neck to help relieve inflammation.

An ice bag should first be wrapped in a towel or cloth to avoid direct contact between the skin and the ice for 10 to 30minutes at a time.”


The site also recommends that people suffering with whiplash should “try to move their neck normally. If the pain in the neck is severe, rest the neck for a day or so until the pain eases. After the pain has eased, exercise your neck gently so that it doesn’t become stiff.”


“Painkillers such as paracetamol will help ease the pain caused by whiplash. Taking painkillers regularly (do not exceed the recommended dose), rather than only when the pain is severe, may help prevent the pain from getting worse.

If normal painkillers such as paracetamol do not help, consult your GP.”


“If you have pain caused by whiplash, a physiotherapist may be able to help using treatments such as manipulation and massage. They will be able to give you advice on neck exercises you can do to relieve pain and stiffness in your neck.”
How does a doctor diagnose whiplash?

Usually the diagnosis is made on the background of the injury and the patient’s description of symptoms. Whiplash cannot be seen on an MRI scan, CT scan or X-ray, although an X-ray is taken if there is a suspicion of fracture or dislocation. It is recommended an appointment be made with your GP if you have any symptoms of whiplash following an accident.

If you would like further advice on making a claim for whiplash as a result of an accident please contact us on 01244 312306.