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

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.


  • 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


  • 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

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.

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: 13-11-2019
Next review due:13-11-2022

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