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Whiplash - What Is Whiplash Injury

Whiplash is an injury to the soft tissues in the neck often related to automobile accidents wherein the neck suddenly snaps forward and backward. Whiplash injury is sometimes called neck sprain or neck strain depending on the structures involved.

Whiplash can affect any of the structures of your neck including any of your neck joints (cervical intervertebral joints), cervical discs, ligaments, neck (cervical) muscles, and nerve roots.


A whiplash injury is commonly caused by car accidents. It can happen when your car is hit in the rear causing your head to jerk forward then backward. Sometimes, the condition may be caused by a punch to the head or a tackle accident during football.

In children, whiplash can happen as a result of violently shaking the child's shoulders causing the head to jerk forward and backward (shaken baby syndrome).


Symptoms of a whiplash injury may include

  • Pain that occurs immediately following your injury or days after the injury
  • Neck stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Visual changes (Blurry vision)

Sometimes you may experience memory loss, difficulty concentrating, depression, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, irritability, or fatigue. Get to know more about whiplash injury symptoms.


Treatments for whiplash may include
  • Pain medications / Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Ice application, especially just after your injury
  • Physical therapy (modalities and exercises)
  • Cervical (neck) traction

Immobilizing the neck with a cervical (neck) collar for long periods is not usually advised as this may lead to more complications such as muscle weakness and stiffness.

Most people with whiplash injury recover within a few days or weeks. However, in others, their symptoms may continue for months.

Physical Therapy for Whiplash - Physical Therapy Treatment Options

Physical therapy treatments for your whiplash injury depends on your symptoms, result of your initial evaluation / encounter with your physical therapist, and your specific goals. Your treatment plan may include a combination of any of the following
  • Ice / Hot packs
  • Electrotherapeutic modalities such as ultrasound (US) and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Cervical traction
  • Gentle range of motion (ROM) exercises
  • Massage / Soft tissue mobilization
  • Stretching exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Postural training
  • Recommend orthopedic pillow if needed
  • Patient education

NINDS Whiplash Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Available on the Internet at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/whiplash/whiplash.htm

Whiplash. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine. Available on the Internet at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000025.htm

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