Whiplash signifies an injury to the cervical, or neck, region of the spine.  In whiplash, the neck is thrown to and fro by great forces causing it to go well beyond its normal range of motion. During whiplash, the lower part of the cervical spine bends backwards, while the upper part of the cervical spine bends forward. During this process, injuries can occur that may affect vertebrae, muscles, ligaments, discs, joints, nerves, and other soft tissues.

Another name for whiplash is neck strain. The symptoms of whiplash, or neck strain, may occur immediately, several hours, or several days after the causative event.

Whiplash is linked to the development of chronic pain, and in some cases, the emergence of a migraine-type headache. A patient recovering from whiplash may experience a decrease of neck motion, due to chronic pain. Whiplash pain is also associated with inflammation in the neck. As such, treatment for whiplash often includes therapies to combat inflammation.