Whiplash, also known as neck strain, is a type of neck injury that usually happens due to a sudden impact, or blow that forces the neck to move in a rapid back-and-forth way just like the breaking of a whip. This sudden jerk stretches the neck muscles excessively beyond their limited range causing a tear in the muscles and tendons.

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This whiplash action is usually associated with rear-end car accident or result from physical abuse or other types of traumas, such as a sudden fall or even happen due to amusement park rides.
Whiplash illustration

This type of neck injury also happens to many amateur and professional athletes, especially those who play contact sports like football, rugby etc are prone to neck strain.

Many people often misconstrue neck sprains and neck strains since both are types of neck injury and symptoms are more or less similar. But while neck strains are caused due to damage to the muscle or the tendons, which are tissues that connect the muscles to bones, neck sprains usually occur due to tearing of the ligaments, the tissues that connect the bones to each other.

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The whiplash injury chiefly occurs when due to a sudden motion, your neck and head is forcefully and rapidly jerked backward and then forward. This sudden jerking motion usually offers stress on the neck, spinal bones and muscles thereby causing severe injury in the spinal bones, the disks in between the bones, nerves, ligaments, muscles, and other tissues of the neck.

Whiplash chiefly results from:

Auto accidents: Collisions at the rear-end mainly leads to whiplash.

Violent Physical Abuse: A person may suffer from Whiplash if he or she is punched suddenly with force, hit with something heavy on the head  or pushed or shaken violently which leads to a back and forth motion of the neck.

Contact Sports: Tackles happening during rugby, boxing, karate or football and other sports-associated collisions can also lead to whiplash injury.

Other Activities: Whiplash can also occur due to physical trauma or fall while horse riding or riding a cycle or even going for a violent amusement park ride.


Although signs of a whiplash injury are hard to recognize, it often takes 24 hours to a few days for the symptoms to appear. These common signs and symptoms include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Intense headaches, mostly occurring at the base of the skull
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms and shoulder
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Persistent weariness

Whiplash can also lead to other symptoms in some people if the injury leads to a concussion:

Some people also have:

  • Blurred vision
  • Tinnitus or a ringing sensation in the ears
  • Disturbances in sleep cycle
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Nausea

Diagnosis And Treatment

It is highly recommend to visit a doctor right away after the injury or as soon as you notice any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms. The diagnosis usually involves acknowledging the cause of injury to understand the severity of the symptoms and a thorough physical check-up to understand which part got affected most. The doctor usually analyses the range of motion in the neck and shoulders, check any tenderness or swelling in the following area, inspect the reflex action, strength or sensation in the arms, and shoulder and also tests the degree of motion that might cause any pain.

The diagnostic process also involves imaging techniques like X-ray, CT-scan and MRI-scan.


The treatment options of whiplash usually depend on the extent of the injury and chiefly involves procedures to control and manage pain, slowly restore normal range of motion in the neck and shoulder and gradually getting back to normal everyday activities.

Depending upon the severity of the injury, some people just need a few weeks of over-the-counter medications and at-home care, while others may require prescribed medications, specialized pain treatment or physical therapy.

Managing whiplash chiefly involves:

  • Adequate rest
  • Application of ice or cold compression immediately after injury followed by warm compression 2 days later
  • Over-the-counter pain-relieving medications
  • Prescribed medications
  • Injectables to subdue intense pain
  • Muscle relaxants to loosen tight muscles and soothe pain
  • Use of neck brace or foam collars
  • Ultrasound massage
  • Physical therapy