Frequently Asked Questions

It's been three months since I had a car accident and got a bad neck whiplash. I'm not getting better, and I'd like to get back to work now. What kind of exercise program will help me get back to my previous level of strength?

When pain and loss of motion persist beyond the expected time for normal physiologic healing, the condition is said to be chronic. It doesn't mean that you won't get better. Seeking out additional treatment may be a good idea.

Most doctors will advise using medications such as over-the-counter analgesics to help with pain. Getting back to normal activities as soon as possible is always advised. Many patients start to fear certain movements will cause increased pain, so they avoid moving their necks. This sets up a fear-avoidance cycle that results in worse motion.

Studies have not shown yet just what is the best exercise program for chronic whiplash. We do know that learning to move freely is helpful. Patients are encouraged to keep moving even when pain is increased by physical activity.

A physical therapist may be able to help you find the right program for you. The therapist will test your motion and strength. Coordination, fear of movement, and overall fitness level should be taken into consideration. The type of work you do and skills required will be assessed.

A progressive program of exercises designed to get you back to your preinjury level will usually take about four to six weeks. A daily home program will be part of the plan. Most likely the therapist will take measures of your pain and disability before and after to show any change or improvement.

This is important because many people gradually improve but don't always recognize the changes. They think they haven't made any progress, when in fact they are nearly normal again.

Mark Stewart, MPH(Hons), et al. Responsiveness of Pain and Disability Measures for Chronic Whiplash. In Spine. March 1, 2007. Vol. 32. No. 5. Pp. 580-585.

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