The Top 5 Things to do for Whiplash Neck Injury Recovery

Long term whiplash symptoms are much more common than you think. A 2005 study found that 71% of people who sustained a whiplash injury still have at least one significant whiplash symptom 7 years after the injury!

Another study looking 5 years after Whiplash Injury found that more than 65% of people continued to experience some combination of pain, depression, post-traumatic stress, and decreased life satisfaction. 

Maybe, just maybe prioritizing your Whiplash Neck Injury Recovery is an important action to take now. Do not wait to see if you experience chronic symptoms in 1 or 2 or 5 years. There’s a great chance you can avoid many of those problems with proper care of your whiplash. 

Take Care of Yourself

Do not make any assumptions about your recovery and healing from your whiplash injury. There is no set timeline and how you care for yourself will have a profound impact on your healing process and your long term well being. 

Why is how you care for yourself so critical to your recovery?

When soft tissues are injured they heal in 3 phases:

  1. Acute Inflammatory Phase
  2. Repair Phase
  3. Remodeling Phase

Very different aspects of the healing process happen during each of these phases and for the best healing outcomes you want to best support the process the body is going through. Doing the wrong thing at the wrong time can have disastrous long-term consequences. 

Long Term Consequences of Whiplash Neck Injury

There have been multiple studies looking at the long term chronic symptoms of whiplash injury. A few of the common long term symptoms associated with whiplash injuries include:

  • Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain and Stiffness
  • Chronic Dizziness
  • Chronic Headaches
  • Difficulty Sleeping 
  • Memory Problems

And, there are a lot more but that short list gives you an idea of the importance of supporting the healing process as best you can so that you suffer from as few issues as possible 5 or more years from now. It’s a lot more challenging to help someone years after their injury when the damage was allowed to heal poorly. 

I see these people all the time. X-rays almost always reveal degenerative arthritis far too severe for someone their age. A detailed history often uncovers multiple auto accidents that they didn’t think were severe enough to warrant treatment. 

Big mistake! 

One study found that about 50% of people with Whiplash-associated Disorders experience ongoing pain and disability. While that can’t be avoided entirely, my experience over the past 35 plus years is that it can be minimized with proper treatment. 

Top 5 Things to do for Whiplash Neck Injury Recovery

Whiplash is not something you can treat yourself like you can a cut or a mild sprained ankle. I encourage you to find someone skilled and experienced in the treatment of whiplash injuries. Very few medical doctors appreciate whiplash injuries and their proper treatment. And, none of those who do are primary care physicians. That’s reality. 

But, there are plenty of things you should be doing for yourself to support your healing and recovery. In fact, what you do and do not do will have a tremendous impact on the speed and degree of your healing process. 

Let’s look at my top 5 things to do for your whiplash neck injury recovery. 

#1: Rest: After an injury the best thing you can do is slow down and listen to your body. If you are in pain then limit your movements and activities. Don’t push it. If you are tired then make sure you get plenty of rest. The best healing takes place when you are resting or sleeping. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do everything you did before your injury. If you have children or other responsibilities, get some support. 

#2: Movement: It has been discovered that movement is a critical stimulus to healing. Years ago after knee surgery or hip replacement they would immobilize the injured joint. Now immediately after knee surgery they use a device called a CPM (continuous passive motion) to put movement into the joint to facilitate healing. 

After a whiplash movement can be painful and you don’t want to force the movement into severe pain. But, you do want to move your neck frequently in all directions that you are able to tolerate. 

If you are using a cervical collar you will want to take it off hourly and move your neck. And, you should abandon the collar well before you think you should. 

#3: Avoid Stressful Positions: The average head weighs about 11 lbs and your sitting positions especially can put tremendous stress on the injured neck. Looking at you from the side, every inch that your ear moves in front of your shoulder is like adding another 11 lbs to the weight your injured neck must hold up. 

Be especially cautious when doing computer work, reading, and using your cell phone or tablet. It’s easy to get in a position that more than triples the stress on your injured neck. 

#4: Take Frequent Breaks: Most of us sit far too much and sitting puts a great deal more stress on the entire spine than does standing or lying down. I already discussed the stress of many sitting postures. This is made much worse by the injured and weakened state of the neck. Use the timer on your phone to take a short break every 15-20 minutes. Stand up and walk around the room. 

#5: Support the Phases of Soft Tissue Healing: As your body moves through the phases of healing you should be changing what you do to optimize that phase of healing. In the initial few days to a week or so it’s fine to limit your motion when you are experiencing significant pain. 

As the Repair Phase proceeds after the initial few days you want to both minimize stress to your neck with forward head postures and prolonged sitting. Start to slowly increase your motion. 

As you move into a month post injury you want to be progressively encouraging more and more neck motion. Put your neck through frequent movements of rotation to both sides, looking down, and looking up, as well as bending to each side. Go slowly and avoid sharp pain if possible. 

Forget about how you think you should be feeling and what you assume you should be able to do. Whiplash injuries to the neck are really traumatic and can take a long time to heal. How you care for yourself and the treatment you receive will have a tremendous impact on your long term recovery. 

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