What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury which results from sudden acceleration-deceleration forces on the neck. The term encompasses a variety of 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 on 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 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 can assist 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.

Whiplash Prevention Tips

Neck Pain Treatment

The best treatment for your neck pain is determined entirely by the specific reasons for WHY you are suffering neck pain. Everyone is different, but there are some common similarities.

Your physiotherapist is highly skilled at the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical neck pain and headache. Posture correction is essential, but it does depend upon the availability of enough joint and muscle flexibility to attain a good posture, plus muscle strength and endurance to maintain your proper position. Address any deficit.

We understand that your neck pain may not be solely about stiff or wobbly joints or tight/weak neck muscles. There is a whole gamut of information that your physiotherapist will analyse during your diagnostic consultation and then commence the correction of your problems. They'll also consider other systemic conditions that can cause neck pain, e.g. cancer, and direct you towards the appropriate healthcare practitioner if necessary.

Fortunately, the vast majority of neck pain does come from your neck joints and muscles. Pleasingly, researchers have shown that a combination of neck joint and muscle treatment performed by your physiotherapist and some specific strengthening exercises are an effective way to eliminate your neck pain, stiffness and headaches.

For advice specific to the diagnosis and management of your neck pain, please contact your trusted healthcare practitioner.

Common Neck Pain Treatment Options

If you are in severe neck pain or have a stiff neck, it is best to assess promptly to exclude any red flag conditions such as cancer and then commence the best neck treatment straight away.

Chronic neck pain can be a lingering problem due to habit. Research tells us that symptoms lasting longer than three months become habitual and are much harder to solve.  The sooner you get on top of your neck symptoms, the better your outcome.

Some of the neck pain treatment options available may include the following:

What's the Best Pillow for Neck Pain?


The correct pillow is also vital. If you are waking through the night or in the morning with a stiff or painful neck, it may be that it's your pillow and not your neck that is the cause.

Neck Collar?

A neck collar is not recommended for most non-traumatic injuries as the collar encourages muscle weakness. However, in severe neck spasm conditions such as wry neck or whiplash, a collar is often used in the first week to assist with muscle relaxation.

Please ask your physiotherapist for specific advice.

Will A Posture Brace Help Your Neck Pain?

Posture support braces have improved over the years with new designs being very useful in building awareness of what the correct posture is. Bracing or posture taping is excellent for teenagers, the elderly or those using computers.

There are various posture braces available. You can find more information about posture braces via our online shop.

For more advice, please consult your neck physiotherapist.

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