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  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:



(Cervical Sprain and Neck Muscle Strain)


Whiplash is a soft tissue neck injury that may include:

  • Spraining the neck ligaments
  • Straining the neck muscles
  • Injury to cervical discs
  • Nerve injury
Process Leading to Whiplash.

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Whiplash can by caused by any sudden, violent, backward jerk of the head or neck.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Contact sports
  • Falls
  • Violence


Problems may start right away or in the days after the injury.

A person may have:

  • Stiff neck
  • Neck pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Shoulder pain and stiffness
  • Poor range of neck motion
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling extending down an arm
  • Tiredness


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You will also be asked about any recent injury. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the neck.

Most whiplash injuries do not show up on imaging tests. Neck pictures may be taken to make sure that no other injuries have happened. This may be done with:

An electromyogram may also be done to test for nerve damage.


The goal of treatment is to ease pain. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as ice and heat therapy
  • Over the counter and prescription pain relievers
  • Physical therapy to strengthen muscles and improve range of motion


There are no current guidelines to prevent this problem. Whiplash is often due to accidents.





  • Cervical spine injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cervical-spine-injury.
  • Neck sprain. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/neck-pain.
  • Ritchie C, Hollingworth, et al. Medicine use during acute and chronic postinjury periods in whiplash-injured individuals. Pain. 2019;160(4):844-851.
  • Whiplash information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Whiplash-Information-Page.


  • Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.