Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction

The term whiplash refers to an injury to your neck that is caused by the head being thrown forward (flexion), then backward (extension). (See picture on the right hand).

Other terms for whiplash can be neck sprain or strain, and it is an injury to the soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, and tendons) of the neck. It most often occurs as a result of rear-end car collision, but can also happen during a fall, or from an injury while playing sports. Severe whiplash can also involve injury to the joints, discs, neck muscles, and nerves. Symptoms may start right after the injury or may take several days to become noticeable.

Common Symptoms

  • Neck stiffness and pain
  • Reduced mobility in the neck
  • Headache and dizziness
  • Jaw pain
  • Difficulty swallowing and chewing
  • Numbness and tingling down the arm(s)
  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper and/or lower back pain
  • In more severe cases, loss of memory and concentration, depression, fatigue

Diagnosis of Whiplash

Most often whiplash only causes damage to the soft tissues of the neck. If the collision was severe, x-rays might be taken to make sure there are no fractures. The biggest risk associated with whiplash is not receiving proper treatment promptly enough. This can lead to improper healing where the injured tissues tighten up, and gradually get weaker. The longer this goes on, the harder it is to get better.


When whiplash is treated properly, most symptoms resolve completely. The sooner you start treatment with your physiotherapist, the better, because with prompt, effective treatment, symptoms disappear faster and you will have a better result in the end.

You should start Physiotherapy right away to try to get back to your normal activities, but you have to respect the fact that your tissues are injured, and pace yourself sensibly.

Initially the physiotherapist will do treatments to make you feel better. This might include gentle mobilization techniques, stretching, different pain modalities such as acupuncture, ultrasound, laser, electrical stimulation, and heat or ice.

As symptoms improve, exercises will be added to help the range of motion, stability, and strength.

The exercise program will be progressed to the point that exercises are done in the clinic as well as in a gym or at your home. These exercises will be designed to improve specific areas of weakness, as well as overall fitness.

It is essential to start a treatment plan as soon as possible. This plan should involve symptom relief, and emphasize returning to normal activities through well-designed exercises and strategies to deal with your symptoms as you heal.