Conditions > Whiplash

Whiplash Injury

Quick Summary

  • Whiplash occurs when your neck is suddenly jerked back and forth, damaging the structures surrounding the neck and head.

  • Natural relief from whiplash pain includes osteopathic manipulation, acupuncture, and electrotherapy. Ice and anti-inflammatory medication can offer temporary relief.

Quick Jump Menu

What is whiplash?

Whiplash occurs when your neck is suddenly jerked back and forth, damaging the structures surrounding the neck and head.

This sudden backwards and forwards motion can result in strained or pulled tendons, ligaments, and muscles. This leads to pain of the head, neck, and shoulder area. Relief occurs when these structures regenerate and heal.

Some of the most common occurrences of whiplash are car accident collisions, rough roller coasters, bungee jumping, or sparring in martial arts.

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Common symptoms and signs of whiplash?

Whiplash symptoms can be felt on the day of the injury, or take several days to manifest. Common symptoms of a whiplash injury include:

  • Neck pain

  • Headache

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Sensitivity to sound

  • Pins and needles in hands

  • Numbness in arms and hands

Pain below your shoulders, such as tingling in your hands, and numbness in your arms, can be a sign of a more serious injury. I recommend you see your doctor as soon as possible just to make sure no other injuries are present.

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How long does a whiplash injury last?

Even mild whiplash symptoms can last quite a while. On average, a whiplash injury can last several weeks. A severe whiplash injury, if not treated properly, can last much longer.

What makes a whiplash injury mild or severe is the degree of tearing or damage done to the structures in the neck and head. In most severe cases, whiplash pain can last for up to six, eight, or twelve weeks.

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Why does a whiplash injury occur?

Whiplash injuries are common because of the biomechanics of the head and neck.

To better understand these biomechanics, imagine that your head is a bowling ball. In fact, your head weighs about the same as a bowling ball. Now, imagine trying to balance that bowling ball on a dowel rod. That is essentially how your neck balances your head.

When your head is suddenly propelled backwards and then forwards, that motion strains and pulls tendons, ligaments, and muscles of the neck as they try to support your head.

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Should I avoid anti-inflammatories?

In both mild and severe cases of whiplash, our tendency is to default to anti-inflammatory treatments: take anti-inflammatories such as Advil and apply ice to stop inflammation.

Unfortunately, by stopping this inflammatory process, you actually interfere with your body’s natural healing process. Inflammation is healthy, and an indication that your immune system is functioning properly, breaking down damaged tissue and stimulating new tissue growth in damaged muscles and ligaments.

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How to treat whiplash?

Whiplash can be difficult to treat at home.

If you’re able to, I would recommend seeing an osteopathic physician or a musculoskeletal specialist before starting a general treatment protocol you find online.

If you’re unable see a specialist, the following general treatments are most often recommended for both natural as well as over-the-counter relief of whiplash.


Acupuncture for whiplash

Acupuncture, the practice of inserting tiny needles into specific points along the body’s meridians, is a natural and effective treatment of whiplash pain. Placing acupuncture needles in specific places around the painful spot on the neck and head increases blood flow, restores nerve function, and naturally decreases pain by triggering endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers.

TENS unit (electrotherapy) for whiplash

The TENS unit, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is a form of electrotherapy that can provide natural pain relief. A TENS unit works by stimulating and calming the muscles. After a whiplash injury, your muscles may be tight and strained, causing muscle pain in the neck and head area.

Regular use of a TENS unit can be a great way to relax and calm the muscles, and thus help decrease pain.

Osteopathic manipulation for whiplash

Osteopathic manipulation is a natural treatment performed by an osteopathic physician. Using his or her hands, the osteopathic physician enables healing following a whiplash injury by moving, or manipulating, the muscles. This manual manipulation of the neck, shoulder, and head adds motion to the muscles and joints, enabling the body to repair faster.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy can be a great adjunct treatment for whiplash injuries. However, if you are considering physical therapy, remember that active motion is a more effective rehabilitation technique than keeping the neck still using a collar. With that said, active motion rehabilitation must be applied judiciously to avoid making the pain worse, and actually delaying recovery.

NSAIDs (Anti Inflammatories) and Ice

I recommend avoiding anti-inflammatory drugs for as long as you can. But if you’re in a great deal of pain, using suggested doses of Tylenol or Advil will not pose a problem for most people. If severe pain continues, and extends into your arms and hands, please see your doctor! This may indicate a more serious injury. 



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