What is Whiplash?


Whiplash is an injury which results from sudden acceleration-deceleration forces on the neck. The term encompasses a variety issues affecting muscles, joints, bones, ligaments, discs and nerves.

What Causes Whiplash?

Whiplash generally results from a traumatic event involving sudden acceleration-deceleration forces. The most common cause for whiplash is a motor vehicle accident. Other potential causes may include roller-coasters, bungy jumping or a sports-related collision.

What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Symptoms and severity of whiplash can vary significantly between people. The most commonly reported symptom is neck pain or stiffness. This can occur anywhere from immediately after the injury to several days later.

Symptoms may include:

How is Whiplash Diagnosed?

Whiplash is a clinical diagnosis based of your history of injury and clinical testing. Radiological tests may be useful to identify injury to specific structures such as a fractured vertebra, disc injury, muscles or ligaments.

Red Flags

Due to to traumatic nature of a whiplash injury; there is a risk of more urgent or sinister injuries which need to be ruled out before undergoing treatment. Your physiotherapist and GP are trained to detect anything abnormal which warrants further investigation, however please notify a health professional if you have (or develop) any of the following:

  • Bilateral pins and needles 
  • Gait disturbances
  • Progressively worsening weakness or sensation problems
  • Pins and needles or numbness in the face
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Drop attacks/fainting 
  • Bladder or bowel problems

Whiplash Treatment

Research shows the most effective way to treat your injury is with a combination of treatment options which are tailored to your individual dysfunctions. Research evidence supports various treatment approaches. Your best treatment direction should be guided by an expert in the rehabilitation such as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist who specialises in neck injuries or whiplash.
Potential treatment methods for whiplash include:

  • Continuing your normal daily regime: Acting Normal!
  • Active treatment guided by your physiotherapist.
  • Exercise to encourage flexibility, strength and good posture.
  • Fine neck muscle and proprioception retraining programs guided by a physiotherapist.
  • Acupuncture or dry needling for pain relief.
  • Education on the injury: asking questions!
  • Joint mobilisation or manipulation to loosen stiff joints.
  • Medication to assist your pain, muscle tension or to assist you psychologically.
  • Psychologist advice.
  • Vestibular rehabilitation if dizziness is one of your symptoms.
  • Soft tissue massage may assist for short-term muscle tension relief.
  • Electrotherapy for pain relief and to assist early healing.


Most whiplash patients will start to feel better within a few weeks of the injury. Your physiotherapy treatment will aim to:

  • Reduce neck pain, headaches and inflammation.
  • Normalise joint range of motion.
  • Strengthen your neck muscles.
  • Strengthen your upper back muscles.
  • Improve your neck posture.
  • Normalise your muscle lengths and resting muscle tension.
  • Resolve any deficit in neural tissue extensibility. 
  • Improve your neck proprioception, fine motor control and balance
  • Improve your ability to cope with everyday activities, plus more stressful ones such as lifting.
  • Minimise your chance of future neck pain or disability.
We strongly suggest that you discuss your specific whiplash injury after a thorough examination from a physiotherapist who specialise in whiplash associated disorder.

Your Prognosis

Will you get better? Yes. However, whiplash injuries can take from a few days to several months to rehabilitate.

Just as the symptoms and severity of whiplash can vary from person to person, so can the recovery time. The good news is that research shows the large majority of whiplash sufferers recover with actively guided treatment. 

There are many other factors which can impact on your recovery, including depression and trauma-related anxiety, so it is important to raise any additional issues with a qualified health professional to give yourself the best chance of recovery. 

For more advice, please consult your doctor or physiotherapist.

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Whiplash Prevention Tips

  • How to Minimise or Prevent Whiplash

  • Common Whiplash Treatment Options

  • Early Injury Treatment
  • What to do after a Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Sub-Acute Soft Tissue Injury Treatment
  • Scapular Stabilisation Exercises
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Proprioception & Balance Exercises
  • Medications?
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Brace or Support
  • Deep Neck Stabilisation Exercises
  • Dry Needling
  • Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
  • Heat Packs
  • Joint Mobilisation Techniques
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Neurodynamics
  • Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation (PIM)
  • Prehabilitation
  • Strength Exercises
  • Stretching Exercises
  • TENS Machine
  • Video Analysis
  • Yoga
  • Helpful Products for Whiplash

    Wry Neck

    FAQs about Whiplash

  • Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques
  • What is Pain?
  • Physiotherapy & Exercise
  • When Should Diagnostic Tests Be Performed?
  • Massage Styles and their Benefits
  • Can Kinesiology Taping Reduce Your Swelling and Bruising?
  • Headache or Migraine... What to do?
  • Heat Packs. Why Does Heat Feel So Good?
  • How Much Treatment Will You Need?
  • How to Achieve the Best Standing Posture
  • How to Minimise or Prevent Whiplash
  • Migraine? Free Online Test
  • Neck Headache? Free Online Test
  • Tension-Type Headache? Free Online Test
  • What are the Benefits of Good Posture?
  • What are the Common Adolescent Spinal Injuries?
  • What are the Common Massage Therapy Techniques?
  • What are the Early Warning Signs of an Injury?
  • What are the Healthiest Sleeping Postures?
  • What are the Signs of an Unsupportive Pillow?
  • What Can You Do To Help Arthritis?
  • What is a TENS Machine?
  • What is Chronic Pain?
  • What is Good Standing Posture?
  • What is Nerve Pain?
  • What is Sports Physiotherapy?
  • What is the Correct Way to Sit?
  • What's the Benefit of Stretching Exercises?
  • When Can You Return to Sport?
  • Why Kinesiology Tape Helps Reduce Swelling and Bruising Quicker
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    Related Injuries

    General Information

    Neck Joint Injuries

    Muscle-related Injuries

    Bone-related Injuries

    Disc-related Injuries

    Nerve-related / Referred Pain



    Systemic Diseases

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    Last updated 14-Feb-2019 11:10 AM

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