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What is whiplash?

Whiplash, also called neck sprain or neck strain, is a soft tissue injury to the neck. It is characterized by a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the neck, usually because of sudden extension and flexion (bending).

The disorder commonly occurs as the result of an automobile accident and may include injury to intervertebral joints, discs, and ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots. Symptoms such as neck pain may be present directly after the injury or may be delayed for several days. In addition to neck pain, other symptoms may include:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Injuries to the muscles and ligaments (myofascial injuries)
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal sensations such as burning or prickling (paresthesias)
  • Shoulder or back pain

In addition, some people experience memory loss, impaired concentration, nervousness/irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue, or depression.

Treatment may include pain medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and a cervical collar (usually worn for 2 to 3 weeks). Range of motion exercises, physical therapy, and cervical traction also may be prescribed. Supplemental heat application may relieve muscle tension.

Generally, the outlook for individuals with whiplash is good. Most people recover within 3 months after the injury, however, some may have residual neck pain and headaches.

Learn About Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with whiplash?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about whiplash and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with whiplash at Clinicaltrials.gov.

Where can I find more information about whiplash?

Information may be available from the following resources:

American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
916-632-0922 or 800-533-3231


National Headache Foundation
Phone: 312-274-2650 or 888-NHF-5552 (643-5552)

Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.