Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

I had a car accident about three weeks ago. I started having neck and shoulder pain about two days later. From what I read on-line, I diagnosed myself with a whiplash injury. My symptoms haven't gone away yet. I really expected to be all better by now. So maybe I need to lower my expectations. How long does it take to recover from a whiplash injury?

Answer:

Acute whiplash injuries usually involve a sudden flexion and then whip-like extension reaction. This sudden acceleration-deceleration energy transfers force to and through the cervical spine (neck). Pain, stiffness, and loss of motion are common in first days to weeks after the injury. Most people recover within the first six weeks. Like any serious musculoskeletal injury, it takes about four to six weeks to complete the inflammatory-healing-recovery cycle. Pain and disability that persist beyond three months is a sign of an acute problem becoming a chronic situation. Even before that, it would be a good idea to see a doctor for a medical diagnosis. X-rays may be needed to rule out serious complications such as fracture or ligamentous damage. Either of these injuries can lead to spinal instability. The roadmap to recovery is much clearer once you know exactly what you are dealing with. If there is no fracture, a short course of chiropractic care or physical therapy might be helpful to prevent chronic disability. Now would be a good time (while you are still in the acute phase) to seek some additional help with this problem. Steven J. Kamper, et al. Course and Prognostic Factors of Whiplash: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. In Pain. September 2008. Vol. 138. No. 3. Pp. 617-629.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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