Whiplash in Depth AKA: Whiplash Associated Disorder, WAD

Common Signs & Symptoms
Pain Swelling Stiffness Weakness Instability Locking


Whiplash is a common injury that is caused by rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head and neck. Most injuries involve sprain and strain to the soft tissues (muscles and ligaments). Higher impact whiplash injuries can lead to bony injuries and nerve irritation which may cause pins and needles in your arm. Road traffic incidents are the most common cause of whiplash but it can also occur as a result of a fall or in a collision when playing sport. Most injuries greatly improve over a 2-12 week period. Recovery time depends on the degree of tissue damage, any psychological trauma caused by the injury and the social support that you have.


Neck pain or stiffness, headache
Shoulder / arm pain,
pins and needles or numbness in the arm.


A physiotherapist can assess your injury and help you to recover using the management principles of POLICE (protection , optimal loading, ice, compression and elevation).We do not recommend the use of neck collar for whiplash. The best available evidence shows that active exercise/ continuing as normal are the best solutions. Heat , ice and exercise can all help with the management of the pain. As whiplash is often a traumatic event, often fear and stress need to be managed after the injury.

Red flags for neck pain

If you have these symptoms you must seek urgent medical assessment:

Visual disturbances/ Hearing difficulties /Difficulty speaking or swallowing/ Gait disturbances /Progressively worsening weakness or sensation problems /Pins and needles or numbness in the face/ Blackouts / dizziness/ nausea/ Constant headache/ constant pain/ Pain that wakes you up at night not caused by your position.

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