Symptoms of whiplash 

Whiplash causes pain, tenderness, stiffness and loss of movement in the neck.

You may also experience headaches, muscle spasms and pain in your arms or shoulders.

If you have whiplash, the ligaments in your neck will be overstretched. This is known as a sprain.

Hyperextension and hyperflexion are where the tendons and ligaments of the neck are forcefully extended or flexed beyond their normal limits.

Although the ligament isn't broken, a sprain can often take a long time (sometimes several months) to heal.

After an accident, the symptoms of whiplash often take a while (six to 12 hours) to develop. Any inflammation and bruising in neck muscles won't usually be evident at the time of the accident.

Neck pain and stiffness is often worse on the day after the injury and may continue to get worse for several days afterwards.

Whiplash is usually short lived and self-limiting (it gets better on its own), but in a small number of people the symptoms persist beyond six months. This is known as chronic whiplash or late whiplash syndrome (see below).

Less common symptoms of whiplash

Less common symptoms of whiplash can include:

  • lower back pain
  • pain, numbness or pins and needles (paraesthesia) in your arms and hands
  • muscle spasms
  • dizziness 
  • tiredness
  • vertigo – the sensation that you're moving or spinning while standing still

Following a whiplash injury, symptoms of headaches and dizziness should only last for a short time. See your GP if they persist.

Whiplash can also sometimes cause memory loss (amnesia), poor concentration and irritability.

Long-term whiplash

Symptoms associated with long-term (chronic) whiplash are:

  • neck pain and stiffness
  • persistent headache
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles in the arms and hands
  • psychological and emotional symptoms, such as anxiety and depression

Read more about how chronic whiplash is treated.


Driving

Don't drive if you have neck pain and stiffness that stops you turning your head quickly.

See GOV.UK for more information about medical conditions, disabilities and driving.

Page last reviewed: 03/09/2014

Next review due: 03/09/2016