01625 500 777

whiplash 1Whiplash is a term used to describe injury to the spine, often the neck, caused by the sudden movement of the head and neck after a sudden impact or collision.  It is a common injury sustained in a road traffic collision especially at lower speeds.

Causes of Whiplash

Whiplash injury is caused by the deceleration force that occurs in the spine after sudden impact.

1. Road Traffic Collisions

Whiplash injuries sustained in road traffic collisions often occur with impacts sustained at lower speeds.  The unrestrained head and neck are thrown forwards and the force of the impact is often transmitted through the small joints between the vertebrae.  The vigorous movement of the neck joints as the head is thrown out of it's normal position causes the soft tissue structures such as tendons and ligaments to be overstretched, in turn setting off an inflammatory reaction both in the joints and soft tissues.

In some instances, the force of the impact can be transmitted further down the spine causing pain in the lower back.

2. Impact Injuries to the Head and Neck

These can occur when there has been a sudden impact applied to the head and neck after a fall, for example, a fall from height on the stairs or from a horse.  The head is thrown suddenly forwards, backwards and/or side-to-side causing excessive force to be transmitted through the soft tissues and small joints of the neck.

Symptoms of Whiplash

Inflammation occurs in the joints between the verterbrae and in the soft tissues as a result of the whiplash injury and the common symptoms that occur are:

    • neck pain and stiffness
    • loss of movement in the neck and shoulders
    • tenderness and tightening of the neck and back muscles
    • headaches.

It is common for symptoms not to occur straight away but become progressively worse over the following 24 hour period after injury.  Whiplash symptoms commonly last between 3 to 8 weeks but in some instances can last for up to 18 months if chronic whiplash develops.

Diagnosing Whiplash

Whiplash is often diagnosed from the patient's description of how the injury has occured and the symptoms the patient is suffering with.  An assessment with one of our experienced physiotherapists will include taking a detailed history from the patient followed by a physical examination.  This examination will look at the range of movement available in the neck, spine and shoulders, as well as assessing the specific areas of pain.  The physio will also assess whether any nerve damage has occurred.

It is not common that a scan or X-ray is required but this can depend on the severity and nature of the symptoms.  If the assessing physio suspects that any serious damage has occurred e.g. a fracture, then we will recommend immediate investigations.

Treatment of Whiplash

Physiotherapy treatment is proven to be very effective at alleviating whiplash symptoms.  It is important for the patient to regain normal movement in the neck and affected area of the spine, however, in the initial stages this will be painful and physiotherapy treatment will help make movement more comfortable.

Effective physiotherapy treatment for whiplash includes:

    • Joint mobilisations
    • Soft tissue release techniques such as massage
    • Acupuncture
    • Electrotherapy e.g. ultrasound therapy
    • Stretching exercises
    • Posture strengthening exercises
    • Advice on managing pain symptoms including the use of ice and heat and using coping strategies during normal day-to-day activities.

More information about our treatment techniques is available here.


If the person experiencing whiplash symptoms is in a lot of pain then it may be necessary for the patient to take pain relief medication in the form of anti-inflammatories or pain killers.  If this appears necessary then the physio will advise the patient to see their GP.

If you have suffered a whiplash injury and would like to book in with one of our experienced physiotherapists for an assessment then please call 01625 50077 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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