Whiplash - Symptoms 

Symptoms of whiplash 

Driving

You should avoid driving if you have neck pain and stiffness that prevents you from turning your head quickly.

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

Whiplash causes pain, 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 is not 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 (6-12 hours) to develop.

Any inflammation and bruising that occurs in neck muscles will not 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, but in a small percentage of people symptoms persist beyond six months when the condition becomes chronic.

Common symptoms of whiplash include:

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 
  • blurred vision
  • vertigo – the sensation that you are moving or spinning while standing still

Following a whiplash injury, the symptoms of dizziness, headaches and blurred vision should only last a short period of time. You should visit your GP if any of these persist.

Sometimes, whiplash can also cause memory loss, poor concentration and irritability.

Chronic whiplash

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

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

Read more about how chronic whiplash is treated.


Page last reviewed: 23/08/2012

Next review due: 23/08/2014

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