Physiotherapist performing a manual therapy technique on a patient's neck to address whiplash injuries and neck pain

Answering the 5 most-asked questions on whiplash injuries and neck pain.

Typing out ‘whiplash’ on a search engine can lead to two visuals, the first- a fantastic movie about a young aspiring drummer, the second- a more graphic one involving an unfortunate injury.  

I genuinely wish you were looking for a review of the movie, that would mean you did not experience the condition and you just wanted a pleasant recommendation.  

This, however, is still a recommendation, of a different kind, and it is a necessary read.  

If neck pain, stiffness or hearing the word whiplash from your physician have brought you down a rabbit hole looking for more information, then, you are at the right place. In this blog post, we are answering the 5 most asked questions on whiplash injuries. 

If you’ve watched an Indiana Jones movie you probably noticed how the whip was wielded. It is hurled forward with a certain degree of force that travels along the length of the whip and then snaps right before it is pulled back.  

The art of whip-cracking has unfortunately found it’s way into medical vocabulary, painting quite a graphic visual, for lack of a kinder word. 

How whiplash happens? 

As the name indicates, the injury is caused by a whip-like action to the head and neck.  

  • A sudden acceleration force sends the head forward and deceleration force to the head pull back after the snap, and then forward again as it bounces off the head rest or a solid surface. This results in strain and injury to the soft tissues around the neck. 
  • Most commonly, a whiplash injury occurs in a rear-ended motor vehicle accident. However, in a small number of cases, contact sports can also cause whiplash. 
  • The head and neck include various soft and bony structures. Additionally, the mechanism of injury is an important determinant. Considering all these factors, the presentation of whiplash injuries can vary significantly. Simplifying them for medical purposes was harder than anticipated and therefore the term whiplash was preferred by medical professionals. 

What does whiplash feel like? 

  • Symptoms may not be obvious until 24 hours after the impact. Within a few days, you may begin to feel neck pain and stiffness especially after long periods of rest, such as on waking up in the morning. Sometimes a pins and needles sensation across the neck and arms can be felt. 
  • Headaches are a common complaint. Sometimes, in the absence of other, more obvious injuries, it may be easy to dismiss the headache as stress following the accident. However, it is strongly recommended that you talk to your physician. In severe cases, headaches can be a sign of a concussion. It is vital that your physician rules them out. 
  • Pain in between the shoulder blades could be a result of whiplash. Depending on the velocity at which the accident occurs, the cervical vertebrae/neck bones in your spine can get strained along their length, further down to the shoulder blades.  

In the case of numbness or pain in the hand, this could be due to the impingement of the nerve fibres in your cervical spine. In some cases, low back pain is an added symptom. 

You may experience cognitive or emotional distress like irritability, dizziness, sleep disturbances, fatigue etc. It’s not a pretty picture.  

Will whiplash heal on its own? 

Yes and No. The answer to this question can get tricky. 

  • As mentioned previously, whiplash refers to a group of injuries caused by a sudden, forceful jerk. The intensity varies on a case-by-case basis. Recovery and prognosis boil down to each, individual presentation. 
  • There is also a lack on scientific consensus on the use of certain, specific type of treatment. At the very least, your physician may prescribe basic home remedies for neck pain and stiffness.  
  • These may include taking adequate rest and including active movement only in the absence of pain. While it may be advisable to maintain slow, gentle movement, they will be contraindicated if the symptoms get worse.  

Additionally, you may be recommended ice packs to help with inflammation and pain. Placing ice packs over the injured area enable temporary vaso-constriction or narrowing of small capillaries that leak. With narrowed or blocked capillaries, the swelling gradually subsides. Following which you may be able to use heat packs to relax the stiff soft tissue. 

Your physician may also prescribe some over the counter medication for pain relief. In the past, cervical collars were prescribed to stop unnecessary movement but they are not recommended anymore, as they have been shown to worsen symptoms.  

These interventions may be suggested for you to try at home and allow the injuries to heal by themselves. In some cases, your physician may monitor your symptoms closely and refer you to physiotherapy for further treatment. 

There are also examples of delayed or chronic whiplash symptoms that have lasted anywhere between a couple of months to a few years. 

How long does Whiplash take to heal? 

Given the complexity of the injury, it can often, be difficult to determine prognosis.  

In cases with mild ligament or soft tissues, they can be expected to heal in a few days or weeks. Majority of patients can recover in a few months. A couple of factors have been identified to help with prognosis. 

  • Initial symptoms: the severity of the pain immediately after the injury is a useful determinant. The greater the pain, the greater the extent of injury and therefore a longer recovery period. 
  • Comorbidities like post-traumatic stress disorder can make recovery longer and more stressful to navigate. 
  • Age: Age accelerates the degeneration of the spine. Older people are a greater risk for whiplash injuries. 

How does Physiotherapy for Whiplash work? 

The goal of Physiotherapy for whiplash injuries would be to decrease neck pain, improve neck stability, neck mobility and incorporate a strengthening program to prevent recurrence of pain. In the process of treatment your physiotherapist will strengthen muscles and soft tissue to enable a realignment of the cervical spine. 

Commonly used treatment strategies include: 

  • Relief for neck pain can be facilitated using manual therapy methods such as mobilization with movement or instrument assisted soft tissue release. Check out this blog post to help make your decision easier. 
  • Guided mobility exercises are taught and performed under supervision to decrease stiffness. 
  • A Strength training program is incorporated into your treatment plan to improve posture and decrease stress on the spine. These exercises target the deep neck muscles, muscles around the shoulder blade and the thoracic spine to provide a strong foundation while engaging in driving or high impact sport activities. 
ICBC offers pre-approved 25 sessions for Physiotherapy after motor vehicle accidents. Find out more about ICBC coverage. 

In addition, after the pain subsides, active rehabilitation for whiplash is offered by a registered kinesiologist and can help speed up your recovery to improve quality of life. ICBC pre-approves 12 sessions of active rehabilitation 

If you’re experiencing mental health challenges or post traumatic stress disorder following the motor vehicle accident, ICBC allows you to access 12 pre-approved sessions with a registered clinical counsellor. 

At Revere, we know this is not a pretty picture. It can be hard to navigate all this health related concern while balancing finances, work , family and everything else. That’s why we are offering all 3 services- physiotherapy, active rehabilitation and counseling under one roof so you can reap the benefits of a holistic package at ZERO COST to you the patient.  

While most clinics charge a user fee on top of the ICBC coverage, we don’t. Go ahead and book now. 

If you have any questions about your symptoms or physiotherapy treatment, feel free to reach out to us at We are offering a free 10 minute consultation call with our expert physiotherapists. Call us at (604) 566-5108.  

If you feel ready, book an appointment with our expert physiotherapists, kinesiologists and clinical counsellor. Share this article with friends or colleagues who have a whiplash injury and could benefit from the best and holistic physiotherapy services at Revere Physiotherapy.  


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