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Whiplash injury and recovery

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is the common term for acceleration/ deceleration injuries which often occur in motor vehicle accidents such as a rear-end or side impact collision. (see image below) Sometimes this injury caused damage to the muscles and ligaments which support the neck.

whiplash injury


Symptoms may appear immediately after the incident, or a few hours or days later. Recovery rate is also variable, for some, symptoms can settle within a few days, for others it may take several weeks or months. The reason for this variation between individuals is still unclear. However we do know that people who resume their normal daily activities usually recover faster  from whiplash injury than those who markedly change their activity level. For example, those who continue to work (even at a reduced capacity initially) show a better recovery than those who cease work completely.

Treatment of Whiplash injury

  • It is important to establish that there is no bony injury – your doctor will order an x-ray for you if needed
  • Keep moving your neck as normally as possible, without pushing into too much pain
  • Maintain range of motion, move your neck in all directions (rotating side to side, side bending, looking up and down) in a pain-free range to maintain movement
  • Maintain good posture – keep a small curve in your lower back, shoulder blades should be gently drawn back towards the spine, chin should be slightly tucked in.


  • Change position regularly – don’t stay in any one position too long, for example, if working on the computer, try to stand up every 15-20 minutes.
  • Take care not to strain your neck – don’t lift too many shopping bags at once, take care with lifting children, swap sides that you carry handbags or briefcases on etc
  • Symptom management – try using a heat pack (such as a wheat bag) over the neck to help relax the muscles
  • Sleeping position – Sleeping on your stomach is not ideal especially when you have neck pain, try to sleep on your side with a supportive pillow which keeps your neck in a neutral position, or you can try lying on your back.
  • See your physiotherapist – your physio can provide an individualised assessment of  your neck and posture and can provide you with neck strengthening and stretching exercises. Your physio can also help with symptom management by providing massage treatment, and joint mobilisation as needed.


Jull, G., Whiplash recovery: A self management guide, The University of Queensland, 2005

Gold Coast Physiotherapy – Burleigh Heads and Broadbeach Physiotherapy Centres 07 5535 5218


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