Treating whiplash 

In many cases, whiplash will eventually get better on its own or after some basic treatment.

However, sometimes whiplash can cause a number of severe and troublesome symptoms that last for a long time.

Whiplash that lasts for six months or more is known as chronic whiplash or late whiplash syndrome (see below).

Neck movement

If you have whiplash, it's important to keep your neck mobile by doing some gentle neck exercises.

Your neck may be painful, but keeping it mobile from an early stage will improve its movement and speed up your recovery. Any pain you experience when moving your neck is normal and won't cause further damage.

If you rest your neck and keep it still it's likely to prolong your symptoms and delay your recovery. Therefore, wearing a neck brace or collar isn't recommended.

Painkillers and anti-inflammatories

Analgesics (painkillers) can be used to help relieve the pain of a whiplash injury.

Paracetamol is recommended to treat mild neck pain. You should use it regularly rather than only when the pain is most severe.

If your neck pain is severe, your GP will be able to prescribe a stronger painkiller, such as codeine. This can be used on its own or in combination with paracetamol to provide increased pain relief.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can also be used to help ease the pain and reduce inflammation.

Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended dosage instructions when taking painkillers and NSAIDs.

Avoid taking ibuprofen if you have a stomach ulcer, or if you've had one in the past. You should also avoid taking ibuprofen if you have severe heart failure or liver disease.

Read more about the considerations when using ibuprofen.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy may be recommended if your whiplash symptoms continue for several weeks.

Physiotherapy uses a range of physical techniques to help restore movement to areas of the body following illness or injury.

It can often be used to help restore a person’s range of movement after a whiplash injury.

Your physiotherapist will be able to show you neck exercises you can do at home.

Long-term whiplash

The symptoms of whiplash can sometimes last six months or more. There's little in the way of scientific evidence to suggest which treatments are most effective for treating long-term whiplash.

However, keeping your neck mobile and using painkillers for pain relief are recommended. Your treatment plan should be based on your specific symptoms and focus on dealing with the cause of your pain.

If you have severe neck pain, a stronger painkiller, such as codeine, can be prescribed either to use on its own or with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Again, always follow the manufacturer's dosage instructions when using painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

Self care

As well as keeping your neck mobile and using painkillers, the self care measures below may also help you manage the pain and stiffness in your neck and prevent them getting worse.

  • Good posture – always maintain a good, upright posture by keeping your back straight while sitting, standing and walking. If you spend a lot of time using a computer, adjust your chair and computer screen correctly.
  • Supportive pillow – some people find a firm, supportive pillow helps when sleeping. Avoid using more than one pillow.
  • Exercises and stretches – controlled exercises, such as those used in yoga, will help improve your strength and posture. However, there's no evidence that they help reduce neck pain.



Keeping your neck mobile is important after a whiplash injury 

Page last reviewed: 03/09/2014

Next review due: 03/09/2016