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What is Whiplash?

  • Whiplash - a soft tissue injury to the neck - is also called neck sprain or neck strain. It is characterized  by a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the neck, usually because of sudden extension and flexion. 

  • The disorder commonly occurs as the result of an automobile accident and may include injury to intervertebral joints, discs, and ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots. 

  • Symptoms such as neck pain may be present directly after the injury or may be delayed for several days. In addition to neck pain, other symptoms may include neck stiffness, injuries to the muscles and ligaments (myofascial injuries), headache, dizziness, abnormal sensations such as burning or prickling (paresthesias), or shoulder or back pain. 

  • In addition, some people experience cognitive, somatic, or psychological conditions such as memory loss, concentration impairment, nervousness/irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue, or depression.

Is there any treatment?

  • Treatment for individuals with whiplash may include pain medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and a cervical collar (usually worn for 2 to 3 weeks). Range of motion exercises, physical therapy, and cervical traction may also be prescribed. 

  • Supplemental heat application may relieve muscle tension.

What is the prognosis?

  • Generally, prognosis for individuals with whiplash is good. 

  • The neck and head pain clears within a few days or weeks. Most patients recover within 3 months after the injury, however, some may continue to have residual neck pain and headaches.

What research is being done?

  • The NINDS conducts and supports research on trauma-related disorders such as whiplash. Much of this research focuses on increasing scientific understanding of these disorders and finding ways to prevent and treat them.

  • NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. 

  • Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.


American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
P.O. Box 850
Rocklin, CA 95677-0850
[email protected]
Tel: 916-632-0922 800-533-3231
Fax: 916-632-3208

National Chronic Pain Outreach Association (NCPOA)
P.O. Box 274
Millboro, VA 24460
[email protected]
Tel: 540-862-9437
Fax: 540-862-9485

National Headache Foundation
820 N. Orleans
Suite 217
Chicago, IL 60610-3132
[email protected]
Tel: 773-388-6399 888-NHF-5552 (643-5552)
Fax: 773-525-7357

Provided by:

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

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Searches completed in January 2005 

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© Anthony George 2005