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What Does Whiplash Feel Like?

Feb 24, 2021
What Does Whiplash Feel Like?
What is whiplash? Whiplash is a neck injury commonly sustained in high-impact and rear-end car accidents.

What is whiplash? Whiplash is a neck injury commonly sustained in high-impact and rear-end car accidents. When the head and neck move forcefully and rapidly in a back-and-forth motion, the force can tear, overstretch, and damage the web of ligaments, tendons, muscles, vertebrae, spinal discs and nerves in the cervical spine. 

Outside of car accidents, whiplash can also occur from a fall, a sports accident, physical abuse or assault. Many cases resolve completely with rest, stretches, and treatment, but a whiplash injury also has the potential to turn into chronic pain. That’s why it’s important to monitor yourself for injury after a traumatic accident and know the signs and symptoms to look for. Keep reading to learn more.


The signs and symptoms of whiplash may not present right away after a car accident, sports accident or another injury. In fact, it may be several days before symptoms appear. If you are involved in a car crash or traumatic injury, monitor yourself closely for the next few days and know the common signs that point toward an injury like whiplash.

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness. Pain and stiffness are the most common symptoms of whiplash. You may experience a constant, aching pain, and pain that worsens when you move your head side-to-side or up and down. Pain and stiffness may be accompanied by tense, knotted muscles, muscle spasms, and limited range of motion for moving your neck.
  • Shoulder and back pain. It’s common for pain and tenderness to radiate across the shoulders, upper back and upper arms.
  • Headaches. You may experience headaches that begin at the base of the skull and radiate toward the front of the head.
  • Weakness, numbness or tingling. Weakness, numbness and tingling that radiates down the shoulder, arm, and hand are signs of a pinched nerve in the neck. 
  • Mood or personality changes. Some people experience irritability, mood swings, anxiety or depression as a side effect of whiplash.
  • Cognitive changes. Whiplash can lead to difficulty focusing or concentrating and memory issues. 
  • Fatigue. You may feel more lethargic, sleepy, weary or fatigued outside your baseline. 

Some people also experience dizziness, blurry vision, tinnitus, and difficulty sleeping.


If you begin having pain after a car accident, sports accident, fall or another traumatic accident, see a doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor can prescribe medications, treatments, and stretches that will help you regain your range of motion as soon as possible. 

Common treatments for whiplash include:

  • Ice and heat therapy
  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • Prescription medications (for moderate to severe pain or muscle spasms)
  • Foam collars
  • Range-of-motion stretches
  • Physical therapy

Some people also find that alternative treatments like massage, acupuncture and chiropractic care help reduce pain and muscle tension. Unfortunately, there’s no standard guideline for recovery. Many people recover fully within a few days, while some people recover within a few weeks to three months.


The most common complication of whiplash is chronic pain and symptoms that persist for longer than three months. Studies show that some patients with whiplash continue to have symptoms for longer than a year, and some people have permanent symptoms. Common long-term symptoms and side effects include neck pain, loss of neck movement, headaches, depression, anxiety, and memory problems. 

Who’s more likely to experience long-lasting pain and symptoms? The following risk factors have been linked to chronic pain and worse outcomes:

  • Older age
  • Previous neck injury
  • Pre-existing low back or neck pain
  • Severe pain and symptoms that began rapidly
  • Pain that spread to the arms

Receiving an early diagnosis and starting range-of-motion exercises as soon as you’re able after your injury have been linked to a faster recovery and better outcomes. Don’t return to sports or physically demanding activities until you’ve completely recovered from whiplash — returning too soon increases the risk of further injury and chronic pain. Follow your doctor’s guidelines on what you can and can’t do while you’re healing.


Whether you’re suffering from an acute injury or chronic pain, Integrity Spine and Orthopedics has the orthopedic care, pain management, sports medicine, and minimally invasive surgery services to help you to get back on your feet and back to doing the activities you love.

Call us today or reach out online to schedule your first appointment in our Jacksonville, FL clinic.