The word whiplash originates from the 1570s German word “wippe” and middle Engish “las”.

In that sense of the word, it means a sudden movement of the neck caused by another force. Most often, the force is another vehicle in a car crash.

You can get whiplash in more ways than one, however.

Keep reading to find out more about this type of neck strain and what whiplash recovery looks like.

What Is Whiplash?

The phrase has changed a bit since the 1570s.

Whiplash occurs when your neck makes an abnormal, forced back and forth motion.

Various parts of the neck become injured by this, such as soft tissues like muscles, ligaments, and sometimes nerves. Rarely, bones may also be injured.

There are various “degrees” or categories of whiplash depending on the severity of the issue:

  • Grade 1: neck pain, stiffness, and tenderness
  • Grade 2: neck pain and musculoskeletal signs
  • Grade 3: neck pain and neurological signs
  • Grade 4: neck pain and fracture or dislocation

For grade 1 whiplash, there won’t be any physical indicators of injury. The other three grades will show symptoms like an inability to move the neck in certain ways, pain when touched, or nerve damage.

Typically, the grade or severity of whiplash depends on how the injury happened and other specific biological factors like age and gender.

It’s most commonly attributed to car accidents where the person is rear-ended or hit from the side. However, you can get whiplash in a number of ways if your neck moves forcibly in an unnatural way.

Symptoms of Whiplash

Symptoms of this injury depend on how it happened and the grade of whiplash which you are suffering.

It’s common to experience decreased movement, discomfort, and a feeling of tightness. This may be noticed when you try to move your head side to side or back and forth.

The pain may spread out from the neck into the shoulders and into the head, causing a headache.

If nerve damage is present, there may be radiating pain into other areas of the body.

Additionally, many people experience psychological trauma after the injury such as anxiety, fear, and depression. This may happen due to the nature of the accident (i.e. car crash) or due to the fear of not being able to take care of their responsibilities.

These symptoms may show up instantly or it may take a few days for you to notice something is wrong.

To ensure proper care, make sure to see a medical professional after car accidents or other situations of injury.

They will be able to tell you what’s going on, check if there’s any serious damage to bones or nerves, and provide treatment options.

Whiplash Diagnosis

When you go in to see a medical professional, they will ask you how the injury happened and your level of pain. They may also assess your range of motion (ROM), or the range in which you can move your neck.

If needed they can order imaging tests. Often, these won’t be able to show injury because whiplash is often soft tissue damage.

Still, they may order soft tissue neck x-rays to ensure that there isn’t serious damage to various parts of your neck.

CT and MRI scans aren’t particularly useful in diagnosis.

Whiplash may go away on its own, but it’s important to seek medical care to ensure there isn’t long-lasting damage to nerves or bones.

Goals of Treatment

As with any injury, the goal of rehabilitation is to return to daily life without any discomfort or pain.

This means the treatment process focuses on reducing pain and regaining range of motion.

For some people, these goals are met within a few days or weeks. Otherwise, it may take up to a few months to be back to normal.

It all depends on your age, muscle strength, and how you go about treatment.

Methods of Whiplash Recovery

In the past, it was thought that wearing a foam collar to immobilize was the best solution. The thought process was that the soft tissues would heal better when they weren’t being used.

Thankfully, studies have shown that this method is typically ineffective and may actually cause delayed healing.

Disuse actually causes your muscles, joints, and other soft tissues to weaken, making it harder for them to restabilize and heal.

However, a doctor may suggest you wear a foam collar for various reasons. Ask questions and tell them about the research regarding foam collars and see what they say.

They may want you to wear it for only a few hours a day or they may see the importance of it due to your individual situation.

Overall, the best method of recovery is to take it easy but to continue moving and going about your life as normal. Most people recover easily and speedily when doing this.

It may require changing some activities so that you don’t put excessive strain on your neck. Examples include spacing out your household chores, refraining from lifting heavy objects, and maintaining a good posture.

Additionally, you may seek professional help after diagnosis to aid the recovery process.

Types of Professional Help

There are various medical professionals that can help you recover and get back to normal.

You may seek them out if you have trouble doing exercises on your own or if your pain levels are high.


Chiropractors are essentially joint manipulators.

They are trained to apply pressure with their hands or with tools to reposition your joints. This is referred to as manual manipulation.

There are places, like this chiropractic office, who assess your whole body to give you comprehensive care.

Upon initial appointment, you will find out how frequently you should make appointments for your particular case.


If pain is persistent or you need assistance with exercises, you may seek out a physical or occupational therapist.

They will provide exercises that focus on regaining range of motion without pain.

Also, they may be able to give you TENS treatment. TENS is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation that sends pulses to your nervous system.

These pulses block pain signals from your brain, reducing the sensation of discomfort.

Additional Providers

You may also choose to find a massage therapist or acupuncturist.

Massage therapy increases circulation and reduces pain from muscle tension. Plus, massages can help relax and reduce stress, which allows you to relax your mind and body.

Acupuncturists work with the energy of your body by inserting hair-thin needles into the top layers of your skin. This may reduce the sensation of pain by stimulating different parts of your nervous system and hormonal responses.

Also, they often work with 5 pressure points in your neck to treat your symptoms.

Managing Your Pain

Pain management is one of the central focuses of whiplash recovery.

After you get the injury, you may use over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication. This includes acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Acetaminophen addresses the pain and NSAIDS do that too, along with reducing inflammation or swelling.

Be careful with prolonged pain medication. This is especially important if you are prescribed muscle relaxants or opioids.

Prescribed medication may be addictive, especially opioids. It’s not worth it to reduce temporary pain by adding the burden and dangers of addiction to your life.

To aid in pain reduction, be mindful throughout the day about how you’re sitting, standing, and moving your neck. At the end of the day, you may use ice for up to 30 minutes.

Continuing on with your life is the most important tip we can give you. Immobilization, as previously stated, will not help you in the long run.

Refrain from taking much time off of work and away from other responsibilities.

Prevention Tips

While prevention isn’t always possible, it is in many cases.

In your car, make sure you’re using your headrest properly. The top of the headrest should reach the tops of your ears or higher. Also, it should rest close to the head and not away from it.

If you spend a lot of time sitting or in one posture throughout the day, make sure to take breaks and make other movements. This may mean stretching, going for walks, or simply standing up in between activities.

In general, keeping your shoulder and neck muscles strong will help prevent whiplash. The stronger these areas are, the less likely strain or tear will happen when an injury occurs.

Finally, if you tend to lift heavy items at home or at work, make sure to do so mindfully. Always assess the weight of the object versus your strength.

Don’t carry anything heavy that requires you to put your neck in a weird position.

Take Care of Yourself

Throughout whiplash recovery, listen to your body and take extra care to meet its needs. You may experience discomfort throughout the process but it’s normal.

Stay active, be mindful of your neck, and seek treatment if necessary. If you follow the tips we described, you will be healthy again in no time.

Keep reading our blog for more ways to improve your life and wellbeing.