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The problem

  • Whiplash refers to a mechanism of injury in which the head suddenly moves backward then forward. This most commonly occurs in automobile accidents, particularly with a rear-end collision.
  • This sudden movement through extreme ranges of motion places high amounts of stress through the muscles, ligaments, and discs of the neck and can potentially cause pain and muscle spasm.

Interesting facts

  • Women are more likely to experience whiplash type injury, this is thought to be due to differences in strength between genders.


What you can expect/look out for

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Headaches, often localized at the base of the skull
  • Dizziness, visual disturbances or ringing in the ears
  • Often recovery from a whiplash injury occurs over the course of a few weeks; however for some individuals, whiplash injury can become a source of chronic neck pain

Hints for self-management

  • Over the counter pain relievers
  • Initially ice can be used to reduce pain and inflammation
  • After the first few days heat can be used to relax tight muscles prior to performing range of movement exercises

Management options

  • For more severe cases of whiplash, your physician may order prescription painkillers and/or muscle relaxants.
  • Physiotherapy intervention targeted initially at reducing pain, followed by restoring range of movement and strength.
  • Massage can help to relax some of the tightened muscles.

More information

  • If the pain spreads down your arms or you experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hands or arms, contact your physician.


  • The Québec Task Force (QTF) established four grades of whiplash injury:
    • Grade 1 – neck complaints of pain, stiffness or tenderness only but no physical signs noted by examining physician
    • Grade 2 – neck complaints and the examining physician finds decreased range of movement and point tenderness in the neck
    • Grade 3 – neck complaints with neurological signs such as decreased deep tendon reflexes, weakness, and changes in sensation
    • Grade 4 – neck complaints and fracture, dislocationor injury to the spinal cord


At Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy our highly qualified physiotherapists specialise in the assessment, treatment and prevention of neuromusculoskeletal injuries.

Contact us today – 9252 5770



This handout was prepared by Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy and is intended as a general information service. Please note that the information provided is not intended as a substitute for advice from a registered physician or healthcare professional. If symptoms persist, please consult your doctor.

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