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What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs when a sudden movement, such as a fall or car crash, forces the neck to extend past its normal range of motion. This quick, jerky motion can injure the ligaments, muscles, joints, and vertebrae in the neck. The condition is also known as cervical acceleration/deceleration (CAD) syndrome. Whiplash often causes pain and stiffness in the neck. These symptoms may last for several weeks to months.

Whiplash happens most often when people have car accidents. The condition can also be caused by contact sports such as football and soccer. Symptoms can occur almost immediately after the injury or several days later.


Symptoms of whiplash can occur almost immediately after the injury. Symptoms may also surface several days after the injury. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Headache
  • Difficulty moving the head from side to side
  • Dizziness
  • Shoulder and back pain

When to See a Doctor

See a doctor if you were involved in a car accident or hurt during an activity. Symptoms of whiplash are similar to symptoms of a concussion, so it is important to be evaluated by a physician.


Common causes of whiplash include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Physical activities such as football, soccer, cycling and skiing

Diagnosis and Tests

Your doctor will ask you questions about your injury, such as how it occurred and where you feel pain. He or she will also do a physical exam to check your neck’s range of motion. Your doctor may also order imaging tests, such as x-rays, to ensure the pain isn’t connected to another medical problem.


Treatment options will depend on your health and severity of the injury. Common treatments for whiplash include:

  • Rest or activity modification
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Neck collar
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections

It will take your body several days to weeks to recover from a whiplash injury. It is important to rest and let your body heal.


Whiplash injuries are often the result of quick, unexpected movements such as those that happen during a car accident. In most cases, you cannot prevent these events from occurring.

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