Recovery from Whiplash

Treatment and Diagnosis of Whiplash Injury

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

Damage Done by Whiplash

Most of the time, damage to a person’s neck, head, and other body structures caused by whiplash are to the soft tissue. Soft tissue consists of:

  • Muscles
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments.

In the days following an impact your neck or back muscles may feel stiff and sore. This may subside within a few days, or may persist.

Injury beyond Soft Tissue

Soft tissues generally heal up within about 3 months.

(Some experts say 3-6 months.) If pain persists after that, the whiplash injury may also be affecting any or all of these structures:


If pain does persist beyond the normal amount of healing time for whiplash, a diagnosis can be made by a doctor as to the exact location and nature of the problem. Diagnostic tools the doctor might use include:

Recovery from Whiplash

Generally, whiplash injuries take no longer than 6 months to heal. However:

  • approximately 20% of patients will develop chronic pain because of their whiplash
  • only 82% will have recovered completely after 2 years.

Occasionally patients need surgery, though this is rare. Most of the time, exercise, patient education (on body mechanics), and medical treatment are enough to show significant improvements, allowing patients to return to their normal activities of daily living.

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