Whiplash: What Other’s May Not Understand


“You felt fine after the accident. Why are you experiencing pain now?”

“My friend recovered from whiplash within a few days. I’m sure it’s all in your head.”


Despite what others may think, whiplash symptoms can indeed be mysterious and evolve over week or even months. Some symptoms may fade away as new ones develop. While most people fully recover from whiplash within 3 months, others may experience symptoms that last much longer and become chronic.


Whiplash occurs when the neck and head are suddenly forced backward and then forward, putting the cervical spine through extremely quick motions and extreme stresses. Most cases of whiplash are caused by car accidents where the person has been rear-ended. Other potential whiplash causes, while comparatively rare, can be from high-impact activities where extreme acceleration-deceleration forces might be applied to the cervical spine.


Anyone who experiences physical symptoms after a motor vehicle accident is advised to see a doctor for a checkup. However, any of the following signs require immediate medical attention:

  • Severe Pain
  • Neck Instability
  • Pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness that radiates into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand
  • Problems with balance or coordination
  • Mental health issues, such as increased irritability, depression, trouble sleeping, reduced concentration, or other drastic changes in behavior


Seeking treatment early for whiplash is recommended. Delaying treatment can reduce its effectiveness in some cases. If whiplash symptoms are mild to moderate, some self-care options typically include:

  • Rest: While it is good to stay active if possible, it also makes sense to take things easier for the first few days. If a certain motion or activity exacerbates the neck pain, then avoid or limit that movement until the neck has more time to heal.
  • Ice / Heat: In the first couple days following a whiplash injury, applying ice can reduce pain and swelling in the neck. During this time window, the ice or cold packs can temporarily close small blood vessels and prevent a worsening of the swelling. Then ice or heat can be applied alternately a few days after the injury has occurred.
  • Over-the-Counter Medications: Some OTC pain relievers include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil, Aleve, and Motrin. Acetaminophen can block pain receptors, and NSAIDs reduce inflammation.
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