Whiplash injuries - more complicated than simply neck pain

Whiplash – how long does it last?

A few years ago I was involved in a car accident – another driver didn’t see the red light and rear ended me. I became part of a growing statistic – a whiplash victim.

Immediate and Short Term Symptoms

  • stiffness and tenderness in the neck and upper back
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • pain into shoulders and arms
  • difficulty turning your head

Early Treatment

The quicker you start treatment, the better. Use an ice pack immediately to reduce muscle spasms, tissue swelling and internal bruising.

Common causes of whiplash

  • 10mph (16 kmph) or less rear end car accident is the most common cause
  • Falls injuring elbow / wrist / shoulder
  • Contact sports
  • Assault or abuse

Long Term Symptoms

With quick, correct treatment the neck pain associated with whiplash decreases rapidly. But headaches, pain in the arms and upper spine can continue.

Because every nerve in the body runs through your neck the damage caused by whiplash can be longer lasting and have a much greater effect than “just” neck pain. Interesting research from Norway suggests that chronic whiplash sufferers not only have long term neck pain but can also suffer from a variety of other conditions. If we relieve the pressure on the nerves in the neck can we relieve these symptoms as well?

Whiplash (or other neck/cervical spine issues) can have an impact on:

  • digestive issues
  • immune compromise
  • pain in other areas of the spine
  • cognitive ability
  • anxiety /depression
  • breathing issues
  • tinnitus
  • migraines

As well as many more.

What to do

Get a good, clinical assessment as soon as possible. X-rays only give information about the bones and their location so get a thorough assessment to understand what, if any, investigations you need.

The jolting motion of whiplash also stretches the ligaments which support the neck, making the neck more unstable and increasing the chance of further injury. So please ensure that treatment is gentle (no cracking and snapping!) to prevent any further damage to these tissues.


Unfortunately many whiplash injuries are caused by others hitting you so are difficult to avoid.

However ensuring your car seat headrest is in the correct position will help – this PDF from Thatcham Research, a company that does car safety research, explains how to set up your headrest to reduce whiplash.

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