Symptoms and Signs of Whiplash

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 11/16/2021

Doctor's Notes on Whiplash

Whiplash is a term used to describe neck pain due to an injury to the ligaments, tendons, and/or muscles of the neck. Other medical terms for whiplash are cervical strain or sprain, flexion-extension neck injury, and cervical hyperextension injury. Signs and symptoms include

  • tenderness along the back and shoulders,
  • neck swelling,
  • neck muscle spasms,
  • difficulty and/or pain when flexing,
  • extending or rotating the head,
  • headache,
  • fatigue,
  • sleep disturbances,
  • jaw tightness,
  • difficulty chewing,
  • vision disturbances, and
  • tinnitus.

The most frequent cause of whiplash is a car accident, even if you are wearing a seatbelt. Other causes are contact sports, assaults, or a blow to the head from a falling object, for example. Sudden strains from changes in direction (like roller coasters, bicycle accidents) or repetitive stress like holding a phone against your head can cause whiplash. Child abuse (shaking a child) may cause whiplash in children.

What Is the Treatment for Whiplash?

Depending on the severity of the whiplash injury, you may do some of the following:

  • Control pain
    • Rest
    • Cold or heat compresses
    • Over-the-counter pain medication
    • Prescription medications (in more severe cases)
    • Muscle relaxants
    • Injection of numbing drug like lidocaine
  • Exercise: stretching and movement of neck and shoulders
  • Physical therapy: muscle strengthen, restore normal movement
  • Foam collar: controversy; may help reduce pain early after injury
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): may help reduce pain and increase muscle strength

Some patients may benefit from acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments. Your doctor can help design the best treatment protocol for your injury.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.