Whiplash is an injury to the muscles, tendons and other soft tissues of the neck. It is caused by a sudden and vigorous movement of the head, sideways, backwards or forwards.
Whiplash injuries are commonly caused by:
- motor vehicle accidents
- a sudden blow to the head from contact sports such as rugby or boxing
- being hit on the head by a heavy object
- a slip or fall where the head is jolted or jarred.
Whiplash occurs when the neck is moved beyond its usual range of movement, which overstretches or sprains the soft tissues of the neck (tendons, muscles and ligaments). This causes pain and discomfort in the neck and shoulders and may also cause back pain.
Pain from a whiplash injury often begins 6 to 12 hours after the injury. Many people feel uncomfortable on the day of the injury or accident and find that pain, swelling and bruising increase over the following days.
Whiplash symptoms often greatly improve or disappear within a few days to weeks. It may take longer for symptoms to completely disappear and some people experience some pain and neck stiffness for months after a whiplash injury.
You should see a doctor if you have had a motor vehicle accident or an injury that’s causing pain and stiffness in your neck.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your whiplash, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: November 2017