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Whiplash – Diagnosis and Treatment

Whiplash is an injury that occurs on the neck for a variety of reasons which include moving the neck back and forth rapidly during an accident, trauma, or physical abuse. It presents itself in symptoms such as headaches, stiffness, and pain. It is possible to treat the problem in physical therapy following a few days of the injury to allow any inflammation to reduce. Treatment usually includes medication and exercise.

The symptoms vary from one person to another. While others may start to experience the symptoms within a few hours, others may take longer.

When to See a Doctor

It is wise to consult your doctor for whiplash treatment if you experience more severe symptoms after an accident, physical abuse, or when you get a traumatic injury. Getting a diagnosis makes it possible to rule out other problems and get the relevant treatment as soon as possible.


You will only be diagnosed after your doctor finds out the nature and cause of your symptoms. They will ask you a few questions including the severity and frequency of the symptoms. The will also try to find out if the symptoms make it difficult or impossible for you to go on with your normal activities. The following are some of the ways they can make a diagnosis.


The physical therapy examination is a key part of the diagnostic process following whiplash.  The doctor will touch your head, arms, and neck. They may ask you to perform certain tasks. The goal is to find out the range of motion in your neck, the degree of tenderness in your shoulders and neck, reveal any signs of nerve compression or damage, and assess the strength of your limbs.

Imaging tests

If your doctor suspects that you may have other conditions, they may suggest that you get imaging tests. Tests may include X-rays, computerized tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a test that uses electomagnetic waves and a magnetic field. It shows your doctor 3-D images so they can detect injuries.

Treatment Options

If your doctor diagnoses you with whiplash, they will suggest treatment that suits you; often physical therapy is prescribed.  The goal of the treatment is to manage the pain, restore a healthy range of motion and strength to your neck, and go on with your daily life. Treatment options include physical therapy, specialized treatment, and medication.

Treatment for Pain

If you suffer from whiplash, the pain can be extreme. It can make it difficult for you to go on with your normal activities. Your doctor may prescribe certain forms of treatment to manage the pain. Rest is one of them. It is very helpful during the first day after the injury.


Over the counter medications for pain medications include ibuprofen and acetaminophen. If your pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe a brief course of prescription strength pain medication. Muscle relaxants are a great choice too. They reduce the stiffness and help you to sleep well at night.

Heat and Cold

Heat and cold compresses are a great option when you are looking for fast relief. Apply heat or cold on your neck for a few minutes and you will find some relief.


Even though rest is important during the first 3 days of injury, you need to exercise to get your normal range of motion back. Some of the exercise options that may help you include moving your head and neck from side to side, attempting to roll your shoulders, and moving your neck towards the chest.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is an effective form of treatment. It not only helps you feel better but also prevents problems in the future. Physical therapy restores your movement and strengthens your muscles. The number of sessions you need depends on the severity of the problem.

If you have been involved in a high velocity accident and signs of pain, stiffness, weakness or even numbness and tingling start to develop, contact a skilled and experienced physical therapist to schedule for an evaluation.  They will direct you in how to start your recovery.  

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