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Recovering From Whiplash

Recovering from Whiplash: Take Your Time and Go Slow


Whiplash is often caused by a rear-end or side-impact car accident and the accompanying violent backward and forward movement of the neck, which can damage the discs, soft tissue, cartilage between the disc and vertebral bone, muscles and ligaments.

The traumatic impact affects the cervical spine, which is composed of the first seven vertebrae (C1 to C7). C1 connects to the bottom edge of the skull and C7 joins the top of the thoracic spine (where the chest begins).

If you’ve ever woken up with a severe “crick in the neck,” you can imagine how painful whiplash is and it’s limiting effect on normal movement. The most common symptom of whiplash is, unsurprisingly, neck pain. Although it starts in the neck, it can spread down into the upper back, between the shoulder blades or down the arm. The lower back can also be affected, as can the jaw (resulting in painful headaches). In addition, the effects of whiplash may be manifested in other ways including:


  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tinging in the extremities
  • Facial pain
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty sleeping


You can understand why whiplash should be taken very seriously! Improved movement and strength are the foundation of a successful recovery from whiplash. In the short term, this means focusing on reducing pain and inflammation. A soft cervical collar is often used to immobilize the neck. This allows the body to recover from the initial trauma, and minimizes irritation of the tissues by supporting the neck and keeping it still. A cervical support pillow, which helps to keep the neck in a neutral position while lying down, may be used to ease discomfort while sleeping.

Electrical stimulation treatments can also help ease pain and reduce inflammation; used in conjunction with massage and other hands-on treatments, it is very effective in soothing muscle spasms and pain. If the injury is stable, traction (gently stretching the joints and muscles of the neck) may help with promoting a comfortable range of motion. Specific exercises will help to tone and strengthen the muscles that stabilize the neck and back, and an assessment of body mechanics to promote safe movement during daily activities helps to support the neck and keep it in a safe position, reducing the possibility of aggravating the injury.

Our Physical Therapists use all of these treatments as appropriate following a thorough consultation and evaluation. Whiplash should be taken seriously, but with proper treatment and therapy, patients can expect to recover fully, usually within 4-6 weeks.


Click here for a more detailed overview of the diagnosis and treatment of whiplash.


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