Physical Therapy for Whiplash: A Guide to Neck Injuries and How to Treat Them Effectively image

After a long day, you’re sitting at a red light, waiting for it to turn so you can get home. Suddenly, a car rams into yours from behind. Your head jerks before you crash back into your seat.

That’s only one example of how we experience whiplash.

More than a million Americans suffer injuries from whiplash each year. As a result, more people are also discovering physical therapy for whiplash treatment.

Are you considering getting physical therapy for neck injuries? Whether you were in a recent car accident or feel neck pain after a rollercoaster ride, here’s how physical therapy can help.

What is Whiplash?

Before we talk about physical therapy for whiplash, let’s discuss your condition a little first.

Whiplash is characterized by neck strain caused after a jerk forward and backward. This causes your neck to extend beyond its usual range of motion. The unexpected force can cause the muscles and tendons in your neck to tear and stretch. Tendons are the band of tissue that connect our muscles to bones.

We often see this type of injury in many amateur and professional athletes. For example, footballer players are prone to whiplash. Athletes who play other types of contact sports experience whiplash as well.

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between neck strains and sprains. Strains involve damage to the muscle or tendons. Sprains, on the other hand, involve tear ligaments, which connect bones to each other.

In most cases, you won’t notice whiplash symptoms immediately. It’s important to keep an eye out for these symptoms before they can cause long-term pain.


Rapid movement backward, then forward, causes the muscles in your neck to strain. This sudden motion is caused by events such as:

  • A car accident
  • Horseback riding
  • Cycling accidents
  • Falls
  • A blow to the head with a blunt object
  • Contact sport accidents
  • Physical abuse

During one of these events, your neck’s tendons will stretch and tear. That’s how you develop whiplash.


Remember, you probably won’t experience symptoms immediately. They’ll likely appear within 24 hours after the incident. In other cases, it takes a few days.

Common symptoms include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms

You’ll likely experience the headaches near the base of your skull. Less common symptoms include the inability to sleep and irritability. You might also experience issues concentrating.

Talk to your physical therapist about the best physical therapy for whiplash based on your condition. Before treatment, they might also assess your condition using X-rays and other medical tests. This can give them a more detailed assessment of the damage and inflammation.

CT scans and MRI can also help determine if there’s damage to your nerves, spinal cord, or soft tissues after the accident.

If the symptoms spread to your shoulders or arms, or it becomes too painful to move your head, see a doctor immediately. They can get an accurate diagnosis and rule out any tissue damage or bone breaks.

Physical Therapy Treatments

Now that you understand a little more about your condition, let’s talk about physical therapy for whiplash. Inflammation around your neck will cause a limited range of motion. You’ll also experience pain and swelling in the joints and tissues.

Physical therapy for neck injuries can help relieve the pain and inflammation caused by whiplash. These modalities include:

  • Ice
  • Ultrasound
  • Gentle massage
  • Electrical stimulation

These treatment options can soothe the inflammation away.

After the accident, it’s also important to start a series of gentle range of motion exercises. For example, you use rotation and side bending to keep your range of motion free. These exercises will also remove muscle guarding. Your muscle stiffness will reach a high point about seven days after the incident.

At this point, you can still use the modalities mentioned above. However, it’s also important to introduce stretching, light strengthening, and manual therapy. These treatment options will get your muscles working normally again.

The goal is to help improve your range of motion and flexibility. As a result, you can reduce weakness and the pain you’re experiencing.

Passive Treatments

In addition to stretches, there are also passive physical therapy for whiplash options. For example, consider getting a deep tissue massage. Targeting your muscle tension can help your ligaments, tendons, and muscles heal faster.

You can also use hot and cold therapies at home. Heat will help send more blood to the target area. The increased blood flow will bring more oxygen and nutrients to your neck, helping it heal. Blood circulation will also remove any waste byproducts caused by your muscle spasms.

Cold therapy, on the other hand, slows circulation. This can help reduce inflammation, pain, and muscle spasms in your neck. Your physical therapist can alternate between these two therapies.

Ultrasounds can help increase blood circulation as well. Ask your physical therapist about ultrasounds to reduce muscle spasms. They can also help ease cramps, swelling, pain, and stiffness. Once sound waves travel to your muscle tissues, they can create a gentle heat. The heat then improves blood circulation to speed up the healing process.

Healing Begins

After two weeks of physical therapy for whiplash, your body will start to heal. You’ll still continue using many of the treatments we mentioned above. However, this is also a good time for you to start returning to normal daily activities.

In order to return to your usual activities without experiencing pain, it’s important to keep stretching and strengthening. Manual therapy will continue to improve your range of motion and flexibility.

The timeframe for healing depends on the person and injury. However, most people recover within three months.

Forward and Backward: Physical Therapy for Whiplash

Don’t let mild pain become a major complication. Leaving your whiplash symptoms unattended can cause long-term issues.

Instead, consider physical therapy for whiplash. A physical therapist can help you develop a customized treatment plan. Then, you can get back to what you love.

Ready to get started? Discover exceptional one-on-one physical therapy. Book an appointment with us today.