Early symptoms of whiplash

The early symptoms of whiplash usually develop 12-24 hours following an accident or blow involving hyperextension of the soft tissue of the neck. Even swelling or bruising will not be evident right at the time of incident/accident. Discomfort, pain and stiffness may worsen the next day and progressively become worse with each succeeding day. The pain usually resolves in a few days or weeks. 

Whiplash symptoms include:

·         Pain and stiffness in the neck.

·         Pain that worsens with neck movement.

·         Loss of range-of-motion in the neck.

·         Headaches starting at the base of the skull.

·         Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms.

·         Lower back pain.

·         Muscle spasms.

·         Tingling or numbness in the arms.

·         Fatigue.

·         Dizziness.

·         Blurry vision.

·         Ringing in the ears.

·         Sleep issues.

·         Irritability.

·         Problems concentrating.

·         Memory problems.

·         Depression.

·         Problems swallowing.

·         Vertigo.

Whiplash injury occurs when the head is thrown backward and then forward with enough force and violence to damage the bones in spine, disks between the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and other neck tissues.

·         Causes of whiplash include the following:

·         Car accidents – especially rear-end collisions.

·         Contact sports such as football, boxing, martial arts, rugby, etc.

·         Physical assault/abuse.

·         Attending a heavy metal concert.

Chances are if you are involved in an accident you will receive prompt medical attention – or would and should seek it. A healthcare provider will touch and move the head, neck, and arms to check for range-of-motion in the neck and shoulders; degree of motion that causes or increases pain; tenderness in the neck, shoulders, or back; and reflexes, strength, and sensation  in the limbs. Additionally, imaging tests like x-rays, computerized tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging may be performed.

Treatment for the early symptoms of whiplash

Hot/cold therapy

·         Cold packs.

·         Heat pad.

Pain management

·         Rest.

·         OTC pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen).

·         Prescription opioids.

·         Muscle relaxants.

·         Corticosteroid or lidocaine injections.

·         Acupuncture.

·         Chiropractic care.

·         Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation applied via TENS units.

Foam cervical collar

·         Not more than 3 hours at a time during the first week following the injury.

Physical therapy

·         A physical therapist may employ massage and manipulation, as well as ice, heat and/or ultrasound.


·         Rotating the neck in both directions.

·         Tilting the head side to side.

·         Bending the neck toward the chest.

·         Rolling the shoulders.


·         Common in Western Europe.


Most people recover from whiplash in about three months, though some patients may be left with residual pain and headaches. The important thing is to follow a doctor’s recommendations to avoid rare but possible complications.

Related: How to Treat Whiplash?