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Whiplash

Whiplash is a neck injury caused by sudden movement of the head. It usually gets better within 2 to 3 months.

Check if you have whiplash

Whiplash most often happens after a traffic accident or a slip or fall.

Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • neck pain 
  • neck stiffness and difficulty moving your head
  • headaches 
  • pain and muscle spasms in the shoulders and arms

It can take several hours for the symptoms to start after you injure your neck.

Things you can do to treat whiplash

Do

  • take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help with pain
  • try to continue doing everyday activities – it might hurt a little but it will speed up your recovery

Don't

  • do not use a neck brace or collar to support your neck – this does not help
  • do not rest your neck for long periods of time

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or call 111 if you have:

  • severe pain despite taking paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • tingling or pins and needles on one or both sides of your body
  • problems with walking or sitting upright
  • sudden "electric shock" feeling in your neck and back which may also go into your arms and legs
  • your arms or legs feel weak

These symptoms could be caused by damage to the nerves in your neck or back.

Treatment from a GP

A GP may prescribe a stronger painkiller such as codeine.

If your symptoms do not get any better after a few weeks, a GP may refer you to:

  • a physiotherapist
  • a pain specialist
  • for psychological support

Physiotherapy from the NHS may not be available in your area and waiting times can be long. You can also get physiotherapy privately.

Find a physiotherapist service

Page last reviewed: 13 November 2019
Next review due: 13 November 2022