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Whiplash Injury: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Whiplash is an unfortunate condition that commonly occurs when the head abruptly moves forward and backward with an impactful force. This injury is prevalent in rear-end car collisions. The condition affects soft tissues in the neck extending beyond the required range of motion. At times, the symptoms may not appear immediately and therefore it’s important to undertake a medical checkup and take follow-up steps accordingly. While it is considered a mild condition, it may cause long-term discomfort and chronic pain.

Whiplash Symptoms

  • Neck or back pain
  • Fever and headache
  • Limited mobility
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Bladder or bowel problems

Diagnosis and Evaluation 

Unfortunately, if you have been involved in a car accident you are more likely to visit a doctor for a detailed physical examination. The doctor will evaluate your condition to figure out any injuries and what treatment options are best suited. Depending on the whiplash symptoms, you may undergo X-rays. If the result is normal but you are still feeling neck pain, the doctor will correctly position the cervical collar and check the back for added information. At times, you are asked to obtain an MRI particularly in case of soft tissue injuries. These diagnoses can better identify the underlying injuries to assist in the whiplash treatment procedure.

Related: 7 Tips to Optimize Your Workspace to Reduce Neck and Shoulder Pain

Whiplash Injury Treatment Options 

In many cases, a whiplash injury is treated using one or more conventional techniques as discussed below.

  • Medicines for Whiplash

Medication can help you with reduced pain, muscle spasms, and swelling as prescribed. Painkillers can be quite helpful and are mostly recommended by doctors. Anti-inflammatory painkillers can help with several conditions such as stomach ulcers, heart failure, asthma, kidney failure, and high blood pressure. One commonly used anti-inflammatory painkiller is ibuprofen that you can conveniently get at pharmacies. Also, muscle relaxants can help you in easing pain before they become more painful or tense.

  • Keep Yourself Active

In most cases, patients are recommended to stay active and exercise their neck. Try to move your neck and ignore the associated pain that may occur initially. Make sure not to allow it to stiffen up. Move your neck gently and improve the range of movements accordingly. After every hour, slightly move it in all directions. Follow this exercise multiple times a day, though keep in mind not to cause any damage to your neck unintentionally – Be Careful!

  • Physiotherapy

Initially, a whiplash doctor will recommend painkillers and gentle neck exercises. If the whiplash symptoms do not go away, you will be referred to a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist will recommend other whiplash treatment options including spinal manipulation, heat, traction, etc. They can also advise you on the exercises that can be performed at home. The treatment procedure differs from one week to another. If you are thinking about when to visit a doctor, consider the below-mentioned symptoms.

  1. If the pain continues and becomes worse
  2. If the pain lasts for more than 4-6 weeks
  3. If you are experiencing other associated symptoms – weakness, numbness, persistent pain, etc.

Physical therapy helps to improve blood circulation, bring back the required range of motion and encourage healing. The different modalities used such as electric stimulation and ultrasound are used in the initial stages of whiplash treatment prior to beginning the active therapy program. The primary purpose of this treatment program is to restore the range of motion by focusing on stretching, moving, and circling the neck back and forth. Here are a few other things you may want to know:

  1. Apply heat to the affected area , which helps in loosening tight muscles.
  2. A soft cervical collar (brace) is used to immobilize the neck in case the pain becomes uncontrollable. It’s used for a limited duration only.
  3. Spinal manipulation is performed in restoring the appropriate position of the muscles and joints.
  4. An appropriate posture can significantly contribute to your overall treatment. Try to sit upright, do yoga, and the Alexander Technique to improve your neck posture.
  5. Use a firm supporting pillow while sleeping. Though we do not recommend you use more than one pillow.

Related: When to Consult a Doctor when You Have a Car Accident

  • Home-Based Exercise

While at the clinic, a doctor will guide you through the entire whiplash treatment procedure and you can also perform some of the exercises at home to ease the pain. Here is what you can do!

  1. Rotate your neck sideways to stretch your muscles. Make sure not to overdo it otherwise it will cause pain.
  2. Slope your head sideways similar to holding a phone between your shoulder and ear.
  3. Now move your neck in a forward direction and towards the chest.
  4. Likewise, do it backward.
  5. Move your shoulders in circles.

It is believed that most symptoms of whiplash go away between 6-12 months after injury. Though physiotherapy can further speed up this recovery time with minimal risk of reoccurring symptoms.

Can Whiplash be Prevented?

Modern vehicles are designed to minimize the impact of collisions and are equipped with head restraints to prevent any whiplash neck sprains. The head restraint needs to be as high as possible in order to prevent the head from jolting backward. However, it is common that most head restraints are not adjusted correctly. While these can make your journey somewhat less comfortable, it is important to adjust them properly to help and protect you in case of unfortunate accidents.


Using a combination of different techniques and therapies discussed above, you can treat your whiplash injury in the best possible way. From adjusting spinal alignments to restoring the intervertebral discs, it’s a long procedure but worth it. At the end of the day, all you want is pain relief, effective brain-body lines of communication, relaxed muscles, and good health. Make sure not to overlook any whiplash injury symptoms that can later prove to be harmful to your health. 

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