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Whiplash is a soft tissue neck injury caused by any sudden, violent, backward jerk of the head or neck that results in:

Process leading to whiplash: the image shows 3 cut-away side views of the head, with the time moving from left to right.. On the left, we see the head in the normal position. In the middle, we see that the head has been jerked back with the chin down, whereas the chest and back are moving forward. There is an area of pain in the spine is indicated in red. On the right, we see the head with the face looking upward.
Process Leading to Whiplash
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  • Spraining the neck ligaments
  • Straining the neck muscles
  • Injury to cervical discs
  • Possible nerve injury 


Symptoms often develop in the hours after the injury, although they can develop in the days after the injury.

Symptoms may include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Neck pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Shoulder pain and stiffness
  • Decreased range of neck motion
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Pain, numbness or tingling extending down an arm
  • Unusual fatigue

Injury Diagnosis

Most whiplash injuries do not show up on imaging tests. Your doctor may want to take images of the neck to look for further damage. Images may be taken with:

  • Neck X-rays
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • CT myelogram
  • Electromyogram

Whiplash Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include:

  • Use an ice pack for the first few days, then switch to a heat pack. Apply for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Place a towel between the ice or heat pack and your skin.
  • Medications such as:
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers
    • Prescription pain relievers
    • Muscle relaxants
  • Move as much as you can tolerate
  • Avoid strict rest
  • Physical therapy and exercises
  • Joint manipulation of the spine done by a chiropractor or other trained provider


Call 434.924.2706.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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