Whiplash: Symptoms, Signs and Complications Verywell Health

Whiplash: Symptoms, Signs and Complications Verywell Health

Common signs of whiplash include stiffness and neck pain dizziness, headaches shoulders and back pain, as well as an tingling sensation that can be felt on the neck and along the arms. The signs and treatments depend on the extent and severity of injury.

This article will help you you will learn more about the symptoms that are associated with whiplash as well as the best treatments available. The article also discusses the possibility of serious injuries leading to complications.

Illustrations by Mira Norian for Verywell Health

Common Symptoms

A variety of neck structures may be affected by the sudden head. These comprise bones, muscles joints, tendons discs, ligaments and intervertebral nerves, blood vessels and. All of them can be affected by whiplash injuries.

Whiplash Statistics

A neck sprain, or whiplash is caused by abrupt neck jerking that occurs after a collision with a motor vehicle. Whiplash injuries account for around 75% of the survivable accidents involving traffic.

The most frequent symptoms that may occur even in the case of a minor injuries, are:

  • Neck neck pain
  • The next stiffness
  • Neck tenderness
  • A limited range of motion for the neck

Although some people may experience neck pain after injuries, more severe stiffness and pain that are typical of whiplash don’t occur immediately after the injury. The most painful symptoms usually manifest the following day (24 hours after). In the meantime patients seek medical attention, and what the extent of their injuries is assessed.

When do symptoms start to show?

Researchers have discovered that around 65 percent of patients suffering from whiplash experience symptoms within six hours after injury. 93% of patients have signs within the first 24 hours. 100percent of patients develop signs within the first 72 hours.

Whiplash in comparison to. Traumatic Cervical Spine Injury

Whiplash usually refers to minor to moderate neck injuries with no neurological or bony symptoms. While minor injuries may strain cervical muscles more severe neck injuries could lead to dislocations and fractures of the spine and could cause nerve damage as well as the spinal cord.

If a person is diagnosed with neurological issues due to neck injuries the diagnosis can change to the traumatic cervical spine injury, instead of whiplash. These distinctions could be confusing because they’re within the same range and whiplash is regarded as an injury of moderate to mild severity.

It is possible to better comprehend the severity of neck strain by applying the Quebec classification system, which divides neck injuries into five categories:

  • Grade 0, which means that there aren’t neck signs or physical symptoms.
  • Class 1 indicates that there is neck stiffness and neck pain however there are very few signs in physical exam.
  • Graduation 2 refers to stiffness and pain in the neck which can cause neck stiffness, as well as diminished mobility or movement (how you can move your neck and which direction you are able to be able to move the neck) in a physical exam.
  • 3. includes stiffness and muscle pain, but there are also neurologic signs like the sensation of tingling and numbness, weakness in arms, or less reflexes
  • The grade 4 is characterized by the dislocation or fracture of spine bones. spinal column

Other symptoms

Other signs that could be linked to whiplash but aren’t as frequent or occur only in the case of the most severe injuries are:

  • Migraine headache
  • Tension headache
  • Jaw pain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • It is difficult to concentrate
  • Vision blurred
  • Dizziness
  • Troubles with reading and driving


The guidelines for treating whiplash injuries suggest that clinicians get X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans when they suspect a severe damage (grades three or four).

Rare symptoms

The victims of severe injuries could suffer from rare symptoms that usually suggest the possibility of a traumatic cervical spine injury rather than whiplash. These symptoms may include:

  • Tremor
  • Amnesia
  • Voice Changes in Voice
  • Brain bleeding
  • Torticollis (painful muscles spasms that keep the head on one side)

If you experience these symptoms then you may have more to it than simply whiplash.


The effects of whiplash may cause complications particularly in the case of severe grade 3 or 4 injuries. However, most people recover from their symptoms in several weeks to some months. The most frequent problems that can result from a real whiplash injury are long-term (long-term) discomfort and headaches.

Chronic Headaches

A few studies have indicated that 20 to 40% of those who suffer from an injury to their neck suffer long-term headaches.

The most serious complications may be experienced with severe injuries, but they are often associated with cervical spine dislocations and fractures. Many people mistake whiplash for traumatizing cervical spine injury, however whiplash can be mild to moderate and traumatizing cervical spine injury can cause serious neck injury.

The traumatizing cervical spine injury may impact the spinal cord and may be associated with ongoing neurological issues that include weakness, numbness, and difficulties walking. A few severe injuries can cause paralysis and even paraplegia.

Do not mistake these problems with whiplash injuries. While whiplash is a part of the list of neck injuries These more serious issues are caused by trauma to the neck spine injury.

When to see a Healthcare Provider/Go to Hospital

If you’re involved in a significant motor vehicle accident or any other kind of injury that involves neck muscles, it is crucial for you to get medical treatment and determine if you have suffered serious injuries. This is especially important in the event that you begin to experience weakness or numbness.

It is common for pain to be felt the following day

Keep in mind that the pain caused by an injury to your whiplash is usually more intense the following day, rather than the time you go to the hospital after injury.

The treatment for whiplash injuries varies based on whether it’s an injury that is acute or if a person has suffered chronic neck stiffness and neck pain. The pain that is acute is treated using over-the-counter (OTC) medications and humid heating.

Whiplash can be compared to other injuries to the musculoskeletal area, therefore OTC drugs such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) as well as Advil (ibuprofen) effectively relieve the discomfort. Advil, a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory that is a good companion to the painkiller Tylenol and works in various ways.

The primary focus of treatment, and especially for chronic conditions, is to encourage regular exercise and stretching exercises. It is possible to use a variety of movements to strengthen the neck muscles and ease the discomfort.

It is not recommended to restrict neck movement by wearing a stiff or soft collar because they’re not effective in treatment of acute pain from an injury to the whiplash.

Relaxing agents for muscles, such as Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) are generally not been proven to alleviate pain compared to traditional treatments mentioned.


Whiplash can be described as a neck sprain that usually occurs following an accident with a motor vehicle but it can also happen as a result of any injury that jerks the neck upwards and downwards. The most common symptoms are stiffness and neck pain Some people experience constant pain as well as headaches.

It is crucial not to confuse whiplash with trauma neck spine injury. Whiplash is a mild or moderate strain to the muscles of neck. Treatments include OTC pain medications along with moist heat along with stretching and strengthening exercises.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, such as peer-reviewed studies for the basis of the data in our articles. Check out our editorial process to find out more about the ways we verify our facts and keep our information accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  5. Van Den Hauwe L, Sundgren PC, Flanders AE. The effects of spinal trauma as well as spinal cord injuries (SCI). In: Hodler J, Kubik-Huch RA, von Schulthess GK, eds. Disorders of the Brain Head and Neck The Spine 2020-2023 Diagnostic imaging. Cham (CH): Springer; 2020.231-240.

By Christine Zink, MD

Dr. Christine Zink, MD has been certified by the board of emergency doctor expert in wild and global medicine. Dr. Zink completed her medical school through Weill Cornell Medical College and residency in emergency medicine at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She has 15 years of clinical experience when writing their medical journal.