Whiplash Symptoms – Guide To Signs Of Whiplash

Everything You Need To Know About Whiplash Symptoms

By Mark Ainsdale. Last updated 4th August 2021. Welcome to our guide to whiplash symptoms.

According to personal injury law in the UK, anyone who suffers whiplash injury in a road accident that was due to no fault of theirs may be entitled to file a claim for whiplash injury compensation. This compensation is meant to cover all expenses associated with the injury, including the cost of short and long term treatment, loss of income due to not being able to go to work, cost of structural changes needed to facilitate independence and cost of home care necessary.

Whiplash Symptoms

Whiplash Symptoms

If you’re recently in a road accident and you experience the symptoms of a whiplash injury, you may receive compensation. Before you can do that, you need to know what whiplash injury is, what causes it, and the symptoms.


This guide will tell you what you need to know, and in particular, it will answer the following questions:

  • What does whiplash feel like?
  • How is whiplash treated?
  • Also, how long does it take to recover from whiplash?
  • What happens if you leave whiplash untreated?

If you have questions or want to learn more about the symptoms of whiplash, our personal injury claims team can help. We’re on hand to take your call about whiplash symptoms, and we’re accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. You can reach them by:

Select a section

    1. What is whiplash injury and what causes it?
    2. Common and uncommon whiplash injuries 
    3. Treatment for whiplash injury 
    4. Can whiplash be prevented? 
    5. Road accident statistics
    6. What can you claim for? 
    7. How much can you claim? (Updated August 2021)
    8. How to claim for your whiplash injuries 
    9. Extra reading on whiplash symptoms and claims 
    10. Whiplash symptoms FAQ

Whiplash Symptoms

A whiplash injury can occur due to rapid movement in the neck, typically involving overextension of the muscles.

The tendons and ligaments in the neck have a fixed range within which they can move comfortably. However, a neck injury or sprain can occur when these tendons and ligaments are forcefully and suddenly extended beyond their normal limit. Often, these kinds of injuries are referred to as whiplash.

Common symptoms of whiplash can include but are by no means limited to the following:

  • Pain in the neck
  • Tightness of the neck, resulting in limited movement
  • Frequent headaches emanating from the base of the skull
  • Muscle spasms in the shoulders and upper arms

What is whiplash injury and what causes it?

Injury to the soft tissues in the neck is known as a whiplash injury. The tendons and ligaments in the neck have a fixed range within which they can move normally without any strain. When these tendons and ligaments get forcefully and suddenly extended beyond their normal limit, it can result in a neck sprain. These kinds of injuries can also be referred to as whiplash-associated disorders.

In a car accident, with the impact, the driver’s head tends to get thrown forward and then backward with great force, resulting in injury to the soft tissue of the neck or whiplash injury. While whiplash injuries tend to be more severe when the driver was travelling at great speed, they can also occur in low-speed collisions depending on the direction of the impact and the position of the driver’s head and neck when the impact happened.

Although we associate whiplash with car accidents, these aren’t the only kind of accidents where whiplash can occur. Whiplash can be caused by any accident where the head is moved forcefully, such as a slip or fall or a sports injury.

In its mildest form, a whiplash injury can result in pain and minor restriction in movement. However, in its more severe form, the symptoms can result in excruciating pain and severe movement limitations that can last several months. In some cases, whiplash injury symptoms can be permanent.

Other notes

The time that it takes for the symptoms to manifest can also vary widely. In some cases, the symptoms are evident right away, making a diagnosis easy. However, it is not uncommon for symptoms of whiplash to manifest two or more days after the accident. To claim compensation for whiplash, it is important to prove the association between the symptoms and the accident. Many people fail to do this, and unfortunately, they also forfeit any compensation they may have been entitled to.

The symptoms of whiplash range from minor to very severe and from common to very rare. The wide range of symptoms and their severity can make an accurate self-diagnosis very difficult. Moreover, it is easy to overlook a rare symptom and make a wrong diagnosis in attempting to self-diagnose.

After any car accident, whether minor or major, it is crucial to make an appointment with your GP and get an accurate diagnosis. A qualified medical professional will use a variety of diagnostic methods to arrive at a correct conclusion. This is important, both for medical as well as legal purposes. Getting an accurate diagnosis will help you get the right treatment for your injuries. It will also make it easier for you to win your compensation claim in court.

Common and uncommon whiplash symptoms

If you’re wondering what does whiplash feel like, this section will give you an insight into the more common symptoms of a whiplash injury, such as:

  • Neck pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Sore neck muscles
  • Limited motion of the neck and head
  • Sore muscles in the upper back area – shoulder, upper arm and upper back
  • Headaches

If you have a whiplash injury, in addition to some of the common symptoms above, you may also experience some of the following:

  • Tingling sensation or pain in the arms and hands
  • Lower back pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feeling irritable

It is important to remember that most of these symptoms overlap with other conditions, which means that the presence of any of the above symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have a whiplash injury. Getting medical advice from a qualified professional is important to get an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment for whiplash injury

If you’re wondering how is whiplash treated, this section will tell you what you need to know.

Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication are usually sufficient to treat milder symptoms of whiplash. Muscle relaxers can also reduce the pain associated with whiplash.  Gentle neck exercises are usually also recommended to ensure that the area stays flexible does not get stiffer.

The treatment can be a little more complicated in more serious cases. In addition to pain meds, ongoing physiotherapy is often required to manage the main and increase flexibility.

Road accident statistics

The number of slight injuries as a result of road traffic accidents is on the decline, according to the Department of Transport Reported Road Casualties annual report. However, in 2019 there were still 125,461 slight injuries reported to the police following RTAs. This is a decrease of 5% from 2018 and a decrease of 33% from 2009.

As the graph below shows, car occupants made up the largest proportion of slight injuries in RTAs in 2019. This may be partly because vulnerable road users are more likely to be seriously injured or even killed on the road than occupants of a car.

whiplash symptoms statistics graph

whiplash symptoms statistics graph

Can whiplash be prevented?

Whiplash cannot be prevented entirely. As with any other injury, when a certain set of factors come together, it results in an injury. These things cannot be avoided completely, but some things can be done to reduce the likelihood.

Safer roads, better-designed cars, and more careful drivers are three top factors that can drastically reduce whiplash injuries. That is a long time coming, however. In the meantime, the best that you can do to stay safe is to drive carefully and position your headrest properly to provide maximum head and neck support in case of a road traffic accident.

For more information about what you could receive for symptoms of whiplash, please read on to the next section.

What can you claim for?

When making a compensation claim for whiplash, you may assume that your compensation will cover the pain and discomfort that your injuries have caused you. But this is not the case.

Personal injury compensation claims are made up of two heads of claim. These are general damages and special damages.

General damages focus on your injuries, which includes your whiplash symptoms. It will consider the level of pain you’ve experienced and how your everyday life has been affected by your injuries.

Special damages compensate you for any financial loss you’ve experienced because of your accident or anything you’ve had to pay out-of-pocket. This can include:

  • Travel expenses: Sometimes, whiplash can limit your range of motion which may affect your ability to drive. This can cause you to pay for transport to work or medical appointments that you usually wouldn’t have had to spend.
  • Medical bills: Although the NHS provides a range of treatments free of charge, you may find that you need to pay for additional physiotherapy sessions that aren’t covered. This will also include any medication you’ve had to pay for to deal with your injuries.
  • Loss of earningsYou may find that you’ve had to take time off work following an accident, which can impact your earnings for the period of time that you’re affected. Special damages can compensate you for any wages you’ve lost out on.

How much can you claim? (Updated August 2021)

The Judicial College Guidelines is a regularly updated publication that solicitors may use to value claims. It provides guidelines on the range of compensation applicable to the different types of whiplash injury and its severity.

The exact amount you will be awarded will depend on the type of symptoms you are experiencing and the severity. Your medical expenses, cost of travel to and from the hospital and loss of earnings will all be taken into consideration along with your mental and emotional anguish when calculating the total recompense. As a guide to the amount of compensation you will receive, you can visit our whiplash claims calculator page or look at the table below to see how much your injuries might be worth.

Updated August 2021.

Injury type Severity Notes Amount
Neck injury Minor Where there's been a complete recovery within 7 days A few hundred pounds to £650
Neck injury Minor Where there's been a complete recovery within 28 days £650 to £1,290
Neck injury Minor Where a full recovery is made within three months.Up to £2,300
Neck injury Minor Where a full recovery takes place within a period of about three months to a year, or an existing injury has been exacerbated in the short term, usually less than a year.£2,300 to £4,080
Neck injury Minor Where a full recovery takes place within a period of about one to two years, or an existing injury has been exacerbated in the short term, around one to two years £4,080 to £7,410
Neck injury Moderate This bracket includes moderate soft tissue injuries where the period of recovery has been fairly protracted and where there remains an increased vulnerability to further trauma£7,410 to £12,900
Neck injury Moderate This bracket will include soft tissue or wrenching-type injury and disc lesion of the more severe type resulting in serious limitation of movement, permanent or recurring pain and stiffness or discomfort,£12,900 to £23,460
Neck injury Moderate This bracket will include soft tissue or wrenching-type injury and disc lesion of the more severe type resulting in serious limitation of movement, permanent or recurring pain and stiffness or discomfort.£23,460 to £36,120
Psychiatric damage Very Severe Where the injured person has marked problems relating to work, education and life and the prognosis is very poor £51,460 to £108,620
Psychiatric damage Moderately severe Where the injured person has significant problems relating to work, education and life, but the prognosis is better than above£17,900 to £51,460
Psychiatric damage Moderate Where there have been problems with work, education and life but there has been marked improvement with a good prognosis£5,500 to £17,900
Psychiatric damage Less severe The level of this award will take into account the length of time and extent to which daily activities and sleep were affected. £1,440 to £5,500

How to claim for your whiplash injuries

Whiplash compensation claims are filed under Personal Injury Law. The claims process used to be pretty straightforward. Anyone who suffered symptoms of whiplash after being involved in a car crash that was not their fault could file a compensation claim.

Whiplash symptoms from car crash

Whiplash symptoms from a car crash

However, the recent increase in Cash-for-Crash scams has made it a little more difficult to get the award due to you. You have to prove that the accident was genuine and not staged solely to win compensation to win the claim.

You also have to prove that the whiplash injury was caused due to the accident. Moreover, you must make sure that you file your claim in court within three years of the accident date.

Other notes

The best way to ensure that you have a strong case and file the claim before the time limit is to hire a reputed personal injury lawyer. Personal injury lawyers are fully conversant with this area of the law and can put together a strong case that will increase your chances of getting the maximum award that is due to you. What’s more, if you have a strong case based on whiplash symptoms, most personal injury lawyers will agree to represent you on a No Win No Fee basis.

A No Win No Fee means the lawyer will put together the case and file it in court without charging you any upfront fees. They take a fee only if they win the case for you. Usually, this fee is a negligible percentage of the total sum that the court awards you by way of compensation. Under these conditions, hiring a personal injury lawyer to file the claim on your behalf while you focus on healing from your injuries makes far more sense.

Extra Reading on Whiplash Symptoms and Claims

Whiplash: NHS guidance on symptoms of whiplash and what to do if you have them. 

Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain: Figures for 2019, in which 51% of respondents who had a road traffic accident between 2017-19 claimed to have experienced whiplash as a consequence. Read more on RTA statistics. 

Reforming the Soft Tissue Injury (Whiplash) Claims Process: The Government’s making changes to whiplash claims. Please read about it or speak to our advisors for free legal advice.  

Can I Claim Compensation if I Was Hit by an Uninsured Driver?: Was your whiplash injury caused by an uninsured driver? Read our guide, if so.

A Guide to Delayed Symptoms of Whiplash: Our guide on how to claim for delayed symptoms of whiplash.

Whiplash Symptoms FAQs

How is whiplash treated?

The NHS recommends treatment through ice packs, gentle exercise, painkillers, and potentially physiotherapy or osteopathy. Speak with your doctor to identify what treatment you need.   

How much compensation do you get for whiplash?

The compensation you get for whiplash depends on how much you physically suffered, whether your mental health was also affected and how the injury impacted your finances. 

Can a whiplash claim be refused?

A whiplash claim could be refused if another party’s negligence didn’t cause the injuries. Our advisors can clarify for you if you want legal advice. This could also include any scenarios of physical abuse causing the whiplash that results in you requiring physical therapy. 

How long does it take to heal from whiplash?

According to the NHS, whiplash can heal after a few days if you have minor symptoms of whiplash. This may come after undergoing CT scans and/or a physical exam. However, whiplash can also cause chronic pain and limitation in the range of motion in more serious cases. 

What is whiplash symptoms?

Symptoms of whiplash are the physical effects you may experience following the likes of a road traffic accident. The types of symptoms you may initially endure include pain, tenderness, swelling and perhaps bruising.

What does whiplash feel like?

For those who have never experienced whiplash, it can feel like a muscle strain to the neck. Like with other muscle strains or tears, you may notice pain when moving, stiffness, general tenderness to the touch and in more serious cases, there could be bruising.

How long do I have to claim for whiplash?

For a personal injury claim, you have three years from the injury that occurred to make a claim.

Can an MRI detect whiplash?

Usually, whiplash is diagnosed by your doctor asking you about your symptoms. But magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can highlight any other injury to the neck due to the accident. 

Thank you for reading our guide to whiplash symptoms.

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