Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip.

Whiplash is commonly caused by rear-end car crashes. But whiplash also can result from sports accidents, physical abuse and other types of traumas, such as a fall. Whiplash may be called a neck sprain or strain, but these terms also include other types of neck injuries.

Most people with whiplash get better within a few weeks by following a treatment plan that includes pain medicine and exercise. However, some people have long-lasting neck pain and other complications.


Symptoms of whiplash most often start within days of the injury. They may include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness.
  • Pain that gets worse with neck movement.
  • Loss of range of motion in the neck.
  • Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull.
  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back or arms.
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms.
  • Tiredness.
  • Dizziness.

Some people also have:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Ringing in the ears, called tinnitus.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Crankiness.
  • Trouble focusing.
  • Memory problems.
  • Depression.

When to see a doctor

See your healthcare professional if you have neck pain or other whiplash symptoms after a car accident, sports injury or other injury. It's important to get a quick diagnosis. This is to rule out broken bones or other damage that can cause or worsen symptoms.

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Whiplash most often occurs when the head is quickly thrown backward and then forward with force. This often happens as a result of a rear-end car crash. This motion can cause damage to the muscles and tissues of the neck.

Risk factors

Risk factors for whiplash include:

  • Rear-end car crash. This is the most common risk factor for getting whiplash.
  • Physical abuse or assault. Whiplash can occur if you are punched or shaken. It's one of the injuries seen in shaken baby syndrome.
  • Contact sports. Football tackles and other sports-related contact hits sometimes can cause whiplash.


Most people who have whiplash feel better within a few weeks. They don't seem to have lasting effects from the injury. But some people have pain for months or years after the injury.

It's hard to predict how recovery from whiplash might go. As a rule, you may be more likely to have ongoing pain if your first symptoms were intense, started quickly and included:

  • Severe neck pain.
  • More-limited range of motion.
  • Pain that spread to the arms.

The following risk factors have been linked to a worse outcome:

  • Having had whiplash before.
  • Older age.
  • Already having low back or neck pain.
  • A high-speed injury.

Feb. 17, 2024
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  6. Daimon K, et al. A 20-year prospective longitudinal MRI study on cervical spine after whiplash injury: Follow-up of a cross-sectional study. Journal of Orthopaedic Science. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.jos.2018.11.011.
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