What is whiplash?

Whiplash describes a range of head and neck injuries, resulting from an acceleration-deceleration mechanism of energy transfer to the neck. The head is abruptly thrown backwards and then forwards. The cervical spine is then forced into a position of hyperextension, and then hyperflexion. This results in range of movement outside the normal limits. Plus, the more sudden and forceful the impact, the more likely that soft tissues will be damaged.

Whiplash is most commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, specifically when rear-ended. People may assume that a vehicle has to be moving at a very fast pace for someone to get whiplash, but there is also risk with slow-speed collisions.

Other causes of whiplash may include:

  • Receiving a forceful blow to the head or body
  • Participating in contact sports, such as football, boxing, and hockey
  • Horseback riding
  • Amusement park rides
  • Cycling accidents
  • Falling down

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

  • Neck, back, shoulder, and/or arm pain
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Headaches (most commonly at the base of the skull)
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Jaw pain
  • The feeling of pins and needles
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Issues with memory
  • Feeling irritable

Symptoms generally appear within 12 to 24 hours after the incident, with pain and stiffness getting worse the following day. Discomfort usually peaks first thing in the morning and at night.


Most people will recover from whiplash in a matter of weeks, but unfortunately, some will suffer with chronic pain for months, or even years. Regardless of the severity, it is important to see your doctor and book an appointment with your physiotherapist for treatment as soon as possible. Whiplash symptoms can be dramatically improved with proper care from your physiotherapist and massage therapist.

If you are located in the Vancouver area, book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists today. They will perform a head and neck exam to determine the best course of treatment for your specific situation.