Whiplash

Whiplash is a neck injury caused by sudden movement of the head. It usually gets better within 2 to 3 months.

Whiplash most often happens after a traffic accident or a slip or fall.

Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • neck pain 
  • neck stiffness and difficulty moving your head
  • headaches
  • pain and muscle spasms in the shoulders and arms

It can take several hours for the symptoms to start after you injure your neck.

There are some things you can do to treat whiplash.

Do

  • take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help with pain

  • try to continue doing everyday activities – it might hurt a little but it will speed up your recovery

Don’t

  • do not use a neck brace or collar to support your neck – this does not help

  • do not rest your neck for long periods of time

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

You have injured your neck and:

  • you have severe pain despite taking paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • you have tingling or pins and needles on 1 or both sides of your body
  • you have problems with walking or sitting upright
  • you have a sudden “electric shock” feeling in your neck and back which may also go into your arms and legs
  • your arms or legs feel weak

These symptoms could be caused by damage to the nerves in your neck or back.

You can call 111 or check your symptoms on 111 online.

What we mean by severe pain
Severe pain:
  • always there and so bad it’s hard to think or talk
  • you cannot sleep
  • it’s very hard to move, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash or dress
Moderate pain:
  • always there
  • makes it hard to concentrate or sleep
  • you can manage to get up, wash or dress
Mild pain:
  • comes and goes
  • is annoying but does not stop you doing daily activities

A GP may prescribe a stronger painkiller such as codeine for whiplash.

If your symptoms do not get any better after a few weeks, a GP may refer you:

  • to a physiotherapist
  • to a pain specialist
  • for psychological support

Physiotherapy from the NHS may not be available in your area and waiting times can be long. You can also get physiotherapy privately.

Find a physiotherapist service


Page last reviewed: 03-01-2023
Next review due:03-01-2026

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