signs of whiplash

Whiplash Symptoms

Whiplash, or neck strain, is an injury that is the result of the head being forcefully jerked forwards or backwards. It is commonly caused by car accidents, but it can also occur due to amusement park rides, sports accidents, or physical abuse. The first step in treating any kind of injury is to be aware of the symptoms, since several different injuries can display similar ones. Knowing if you are experiencing these signs of whiplash can help your doctor more quickly and accurately diagnose and treat your injury, which will reduce your risk of future complications. 

Signs of Whiplash

Symptoms of whiplash usually develop immediately after the incident, but they may take up to a day or two. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

Common symptoms include:

  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Headaches
  • Tenderness
  • Tingling in the arms
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

Less common symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems

Tests & Diagnosis for Whiplash

Your doctor will need to perform a physical exam to determine if you have whiplash, and they will likely order at least one imaging test to confirm their diagnosis. 

The physical exam itself consists of your doctor touching and moving your head, neck, and arms. Your doctor will also ask you to move your head or neck on your own. These tests determine your range of motion, the degree of motion that causes pain, tenderness in the neck and shoulders, and reflexes and sensation in your limbs. 

The purpose of the imaging tests is to rule out other conditions or injuries that could potentially be causing your symptoms. Your doctor can use an X-ray of the neck to make sure there are no fractures, dislocations, or arthritis, a CT scan of the neck bones to ensure there is no bone damage, and/or an MRI to see if there are bone injuries or soft tissue injuries, such as spinal cord damage.

Potential Complications of Whiplash

The vast majority of whiplash sufferers fully recover within a couple months, but there are some people who experience symptoms for several months or even years after the injury occurs. If the pain lasts this long, it may be chronic, but it is difficult to predict how severe and consistent that pain will be. You can find effective pain relief from massage and chiropractic care, or you can try alternative treatments, such as acupuncture or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).


Last Updated: June 26, 2015