Whiplash: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Whiplash Definition and Meaning

Whiplash occurs when your head suddenly snaps forward, then backward in a whip-like motion. This causes the muscles and ligaments of your neck to over-stretch. While many people associate whiplash with car accidents, you don’t have to be in a car accident to develop whiplash. High-impact sports and activities (like skiing, snowboarding, football, or boxing) can also cause it.

Whiplash Symptoms

Symptoms of whiplash typically develop within days of the injury and may include: neck pain and stiffness, worsening with neck movement; loss of range of motion in the neck; headaches (often starting at the base of the skull); tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms; tingling or numbness in the arms; fatigue; and dizziness. Some people may experience symptoms like blurred vision, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), sleep disturbances, irritability, difficulty concentrating, or memory problems.

Whiplash: A Hinge Health Perspective

Experiencing an injury that causes whiplash can be scary, and it’s understandable to want to restrict neck movements that may cause discomfort. If you’re reluctant to move because you think you’ll cause more damage or injury to your neck, know this: Movement is often the fastest way to healing. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine.

Studies show that movement, while at times painful, helps rehab the neck muscles by increasing blood flow, and gradually improving the strength and flexibility of the muscles in the neck, plus all the structures that support it. You want your neck to remain mobile to prevent tightness that can lead to more pain.

Whiplash Treatment

Whiplash can usually be managed with at-home care. Treatment varies based on the severity but may include over-the-counter and prescription medication, cold or heat therapy, gentle neck exercises, and physical therapy. 

How Physical Therapy Can Help With Whiplash

Physical therapy can aid in easing pain that results from whiplash, especially if you want guidance as you exercise. A physical therapist (PT) may use techniques such as stretching and strengthening exercises to improve neck mobility and alleviate pain, as well as cold and heat therapy and massage. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Whiplash Injury. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/whiplash-injury 

  2. Yadla, S., Ratliff, J. K., & Harrop, J. S. (2007). Whiplash: diagnosis, treatment, and associated injuries. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 1(1), 65–68. doi:10.1007/s12178-007-9008-x

  3. Rosenfeld, M., Seferiadis, A., Carlsson, J., & Gunnarsson, R. (2003). Active Intervention in Patients with Whiplash-Associated Disorders Improves Long-Term Prognosis. Spine, 28(22), 2491–2498. doi:10.1097/01.brs.0000090822.96814.13

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