Whiplash: Causes, Symptom and Treatment

Whiplash is a term often used to describe a type of soft tissue injury to the neck, a sprain, or strain.  It occurs usually due to injuries that are characterized by a sudden extension and flexion motion of the neck, this causing injury to the ligaments and muscles in the neck (Donohue, 2016). 

The neck or cervical spine consists of seven bones called vertebrae and these vertebrae have ligaments and long muscles over them which protect the spinal cord.  Our cervical spine is very flexible and that allows us to easily turn our head, nod, and tilt with ease, however, having this flexibility makes our necks susceptible to injury (Eidelson & Gerencer).

Commonly seen causes of whiplash are typically due to motor vehicle collisions but can also be seen with contact sports falls and other types of activities that cause sudden motion of the neck.

There can be varying degrees of this type of soft tissue injury ranging from mild to severe and the typical presentation of symptoms can include:

  • neck pain
  • stiffness
  • limited range of motion

Other symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • tenderness
  • stiffness
  • pain in the shoulder, back or arms
  • numbness and tingling in the arms

(Eidelson & Gerencer).

Whiplash is typically treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, antidepressants to help alleviate nerve pain if present, muscle relaxers, and a home exercise program with neck stretches. Physical therapy is sometimes recommended to help ease neck pain and strengthen the muscles (Eidelson & Gerencer). Chiropractic treatment can also be utilized to help promote mobility of the neck muscles and cervical spine.  If symptoms do not resolve other medical treatment may be necessary.


Donohue, A. (2016). Whiplash: More than Standard Neck Pain. American Chiropractic Association. Retrieved from https://www.acatoday.org/News-Publications/ACA-News-Archive/ArtMID/5721/ArticleID/116/Whiplash-More-than-Standard-Neck-Pain

Eidelson, S., Gerencer, T. (no date). Whiplash Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment. Spine Universe. Retrieved from https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/whiplash#causes