Health & Fitness

Neck pain or whiplash? Know the difference


Ever experienced bad neck pain after trauma and are unsure if you have a whiplash injury? Fret not, you are not alone! Whiplash is very commonly ignored and passed off as muscle pain and stiffness.

What Is A Whiplash?

Let us start by understanding the basics of what constitutes a whiplash injury. This is a neck injury caused by forced, rapid back and forth movement of the neck; like the cracking of a whip. It is most commonly caused by road traffic accidents or a hard tackle from playing contact sports.

Pain with this condition is commonly felt in the back of the neck that extends from the base of the skull, down towards the shoulder blades and the spine.

Causes Of Whiplash?


A whiplash injury may result from:

Car accidents. Rear-end collisions are a major cause of whiplash.

Physical abuse or assault. Whiplash can occur if you are punched or shaken. It's one of the injuries seen in shaken baby syndrome.

Contact sports. Football tackles and other sports-related collisions can sometimes cause whiplash.

What Are The Symptoms Of Whiplash?

While it might be tricky to differentiate the symptoms between a whiplash and neck pain, there are some key indicators that can help you distinguish between the two. Symptoms which include:

Neck pain and stiffness

Worsening of pain with neck movement

Loss of range of motion in the neck

Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull

Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back or arms

Tingling or numbness in the arms



Blurred vision

Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

Sleep disturbances


Difficulty concentrating

Memory problems

These are some of the red flags for you to seek professional opinion.

Can Physiotherapy Help Me?

A common question is whether you should consult a doctor or a physiotherapist. While a doctor might prescribe painkillers to ease the pain, a physiotherapist would not only be able to correctly diagnose the injury but also give you a comprehensive recovery plan by looking into all the affected areas.

A carefully tailored physiotherapy plan will be aimed to improve range of motion of affected joints to significantly reduce neck pain and headaches, decrease and strengthen muscle spasms, and give you constructive advice to return to sport safely.

How Can I Help Myself If I Might Have A Whiplash?

Before you consult a doctor or physiotherapist, there are some DIY (Do It Yourself) recovery tips you could start doing to help ease the pain:

Ice pack therapy upon initial onset (first 72 hours), 10-15 minutes several times a day

Mindfulness about posture — always maintain a good, upright posture while sitting, standing and walking

If you are using a computer, adjust your chair and computer screen to a comfortable level

Heat pack therapy to help relieve the tension in muscles 10-15 minutes several times a day

Take your prescribed medication and always follow the recommended dosage instructions when taking your painkillers

How Will I Get Better From Whiplash?

“Will I get better?” is a burning question most individuals have. Bear in mind that as symptoms and severity of a whiplash injury can vary among individuals, the recovery time would not be the same for everyone. The best advice I can give would be to look on the bright side, keep an open mind with treatment and most importantly, exercise with proper care and advice from your physiotherapist.