Whiplash Injury Recovery Tips

Treatment and Diagnosis of Whiplash Injury

X-ray of human head showing neck contortion
Whiplash diagnosis and treatment. angelhell / Getty Images

Whiplash, a much bandied-about term describes what happens to your neck when you are struck from behind or from the side by another vehicle while driving or riding in your car.  Whiplash may be caused by other things other than car accidents, as well.  Examples include diving accidents and shaken baby syndrome.

Symptoms of whiplash can take a few days to show up; the fact you don't feel pain immediately after a whiplash does not mean you're out of the woods.

 In the days following a whiplash impact, your neck or back muscles may feel stiff and sore. After that, your body's response can vary - pain subside within a few days, or it may persist for a while.

Damage Done by Whiplash

The damage caused by whiplash generally affects your soft tissues and your joints. When we talk about "soft tissue," we're referring to muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  And joints are the areas where adjacent bones meet in order to allow for movement of the body as well as for the forces of movement to be transferred through the body.  (The latter affects your alignment and your functional capacity.)

The good news is that sometimes, whiplash causes no damage, pain or injury at all.  Of those cases of whiplash that do cause problems, the rate of recovery can be variable, but 3-6 months is the standard length of time for many.

What Can You Do for Yourself Following a Whiplash Injury?

Good posture habits, exercise, and effective body mechanics - along with seeking treatment for your whiplash - is key to a speedy and uneventful recovery.

 Here are a few tips:

  1. Maintain a home exercise program from a licensed physical therapist.  Exercise will help you regain your neck flexibility, as well as build the amount of strength so needed for good head and neck support.
  2. Watch out for bad posture habits; in other words, positional shifts your body makes in response to the whiplash to keep you moving and out of pain.  While these can help in the short-term, over the long haul they may create more pain and functional limitation.  This takes awareness as well as good body mechanics.  
    To develop postural awareness think about how you'll perform your intended tasks (which includes stationary ones like sitting) before you do. The idea is to use positions that don't strain your joints.
  1. While at work, switch positions on a regular basis.  This may help you use your muscle more equally as well as give them a break before they become overused.  You might also consider switching from one type of task to another (and then back again) if your job permits.
  2. Stay active, but adapt the intensity and amount of movement you do downward if your pain dictates.  It used to be that doctors would tell their patients to take to their beds in order to heal a spine injury.  More recently, though, the advice is to remain active while you're healing.


Jull, Gwendolen. Whiplash Injury Recovery: A Self-Management Guide. University of Queensland Austrailia. 

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