What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a type of neck injury. It typically occurs after a sudden acceleration, followed by a sudden deceleration. This force leads to a forward and backward or sideways motion of the neck and head, and usually happens in accidents involving automobiles and other forms of transport.

Whiplash can involve damage to soft tissues and/or bone structures. While it is not considered a life-threatening injury, whiplash can lead to a severely restricted range of motion for up to several months, affecting the ability to perform everyday activities.

Common whiplash symptoms can include neck pain, restricted range of motion, muscle spasms, arm and shoulder pain, muscle spasms, and pins and needles. Individuals who suffer whiplash may also experience memory loss, dizziness, fatigue and difficulty in concentrating. Symptoms do not typically develop fully until hours after an injury has occurred.

What causes whiplash?

The main cause of whiplash is the ‘throwing’ of the head forwards and backwards, or sideways, in a violent manner. Scenarios in which this can happen include; car accidents and collisions; accidents involving other types of high-speed transport; sudden falls or slips which jolt back the head; a blow to the head during contact sports; and the head being struck by a heavy object.

Treatment options for whiplash


After any initial treatment has been carried out in a hospital, osteopaths can help individuals to recover from whiplash. In some cases, imagery will be used to confirm the extent of the injury. Osteopaths can check that structures which influence the central nervous system that could be affected by the injury – such as the pelvis and the cranium – are not restricted in their movement. Manipulations can then be performed on muscles which have been affected by the injury, according to each individual’s specific condition.


Physical exercises can help with recovery following a whiplash injury. Tailored exercise programmes can help to improve range of motion, reduce pain and inflammation, strengthen the muscles in the neck and the upper back, ease muscle tension, improve neck posture, and make everyday activities more manageable.