How Long Does Whiplash Last and How Can I Treat It at Home?

woman having neck massage by therapist

More than two million Americans get whiplash each year, and while car accidents are a leading cause of the injury, athletes can experience it as well. Whiplash occurs when something causes your neck to jerk ("whip") forward and backward forcefully. The sudden movement often tears neck ligaments and causes muscle strain. 

Whiplash can be very painful and uncomfortable, but there are several self-care tips you can take to treat it at home. If you're asking yourself "How long does whiplash last?" and what you can do to make it go away sooner, here are some tips.

Whiplash Symptoms

Whiplash symptoms usually develop within a few days of the injury. They may include any of the following:

  • Pain which gets worse with neck movements and which may extend to the shoulders and upper back
  • Soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Limited range of neck motion
  • Headaches that begin at the base of the skull and radiate to the forehead
  • Dizziness

Long term effects of whiplash include dizziness, jaw pain, memory problems, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, and severe headaches.

How Long Does Whiplash Last?

How long you'll have to deal with whiplash symptoms depends upon the severity of your injury. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for whiplash to clear up on its own. Whiplash injuries that did more damage, such as disrupting a disc along your spine, can take longer to recover from.

You should seek medical care following an accident or other situation that caused the whiplash. You may receive a MRI or x-ray to assess how much damage was done and to learn your estimated recovery time. You can speed up the healing process by trying to rest your neck as much as possible.

Caring For Whiplash At Home

Most of the time, whiplash can be cured by letting the neck heal on its own and following a few self-care tips. Your doctor may suggest some of the following to you to ease discomfort:

Taking an Over-The-Counter Painkiller

Most over-the-counter painkillers can ease soreness. Ibuprofen or naproxen-based pain pills can also help reduce inflammation. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe a prescription painkiller.

Apply a Cold Pack to the Neck

Applying a cold or ice pack wrapped in a towel to your neck for 15 minutes at a time every few hours can help reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain. You may be instructed to ice your neck for the first few days.

Apply Heat to the Neck

After a few days of applying cold packs, you may find applying something warm to the injured neck area eases symptoms as well. Moist heat such as a wet towel may be applied.

Wear a Neck Brace

You may be instructed to wear a neck brace for a few days to prevent further injury.

Gently Exercise the Neck

After a few days, your doctor or a physical therapist may give you some gentle neck exercises to increase your neck's range of motion and strengthen muscles.

Most importantly, recovering from whiplash requires time and rest. Try not to exert your neck too much until it's had a chance to heal.

Bounce Back After Whiplash

Now you know the answer to "How long does whiplash last?" and what you should do to bounce back after a whiplash injury.

For more great tips on recovering from an injury, check out our latest illness and treatment posts.


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