Whiplash causes and treatment

Whiplash is the action of a person’s head moving forward and back very quickly and is commonly associated with>car accidents. It can occur during any activity that involves a similar forceful movement such as a dive or a fall. Injury results when neck structures are ‘overstretched’- these include ligaments, discs, blood vessels, nerves, muscles and joints. More severe cases can involve broken bones.


The type of neck problems people experience after a whiplash injury> vary greatly and are collectively referred to as Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD). These problems can range from mild neck stiffness to fracture/dislocation of the neck. Whiplash associated disorders include:

  • neck stiffness
  • neck pain
  • pain in shoulders/arms/upper backheadaches
  • dizziness
  • double vision
  • altered sensations in neck and arms
  • weakness in neck and arms


  • Assuming serious injury such as neck fracture/dislocation has been ruled out a person with WAD can be rest assured that:
  • The symptoms are a normal reaction to being hurt but there has been no serious damage. The muscles and joints have been affected but they have a natural ability to restore themselves which is helped by activity.
  • Even though symptoms can persist for a while the acute pain will ease off in a few days or weeks, at least to a point where you can get on with your daily activities to some extent.
  • Use simple painkillers to control your pain to help increase your activity levels.
  • Avoiding daily activities slows recovery. Don’t stay in one position too long, move round before you stiffen up and keep moving!
  • Gentle neck exercises are helpful.
  • Try not to worry or be frightened of movement or pain. IN this case hurt is not the same as harm.
  • Neck collars and rest are unhelpful.


Physiotherapy can help people with WAD provided they do not have the most severe WAD ie: fracture/dislocation of the neck for which urgent medical attention is required. Current research shows that people who carry on with their normal activities improve faster than those who limit their activities. Your physiotherapist can assist you in encouraging and promoting mobility in your neck. Working on mobility decreases the chances of the problem persisting into the long-term. Physiotherapy can help you achieve this by prescribing you with appropriate exercises and progressing these as you improve. Manual techniques may also be used in the early stages to help with mobility of your neck . Your physiotherapist will also advise you about posture as this also plays a role in the path to recovery. WADs are best treated with gentle movement as soon as possible – physiotherapists being movement specialists are here to help you get better as quickly as possible!

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