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How Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Whiplash?

If you have been in a car accident and are suffering from whiplash, physical therapy can be an effective treatment option to relieve the pain. With whiplash, the soft tissues in your neck get damaged, and a physical therapist can work with you to restore proper function and movement in these tissues.

Our team at Impact Medical Wesley Chapel explains whiplash and how our physical therapists can treat it.

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash describes injuries that result from your head and neck jolting suddenly forward and backward. These injuries often occur when you are rear-ended or in other catastrophic vehicle accidents.

Whiplash varies in severity, though most injuries associated with it are injuries to the soft tissues. Depending on the severity of your whiplash, it can take months to fully recover the previous range of motion in your neck and back. 

What Causes Whiplash?

The most common cause of whiplash is car accidents. When you are first struck in an accident, your head experiences hyperextension, where your vertebrae are flexed beyond their normal range of motion, causing the spine to form an S shape.

When your head stops moving, it falls forward into hyperflexion, which describes a muscle moving beyond its normal limit.

During this violent movement, the brain is moved forcefully toward the front and back of your skull.

Symptoms of Whiplash

If you have the following symptoms after a car accident, you may have whiplash:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Backaches or pain
  • Numbness or tingling in the shoulders or arms

Physical Therapy for Whiplash

Physical therapy includes passive and active treatment modalities. Passive treatments are designed to help relax you and your body. They are called passive because you aren’t expected to participate.

You will most likely be feeling acute pain because of the whiplash, so you will likely start with passive treatments as your body heals. As you feel better using passive treatments, your physical therapist will suggest beginning active treatments.

The ultimate goal of physical therapy is to start active treatments. These exercises are designed to strengthen the body so that the spine has better support.

Passive Treatments for Whiplash

The following whiplash treatments are considered passive:

Deep Tissue Manual

This treatment technique targets muscle tension that develops due to whiplash. A therapist will use direct pressure and friction to help release the tension in your soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) to help them heal faster.

Hot and Cold Therapies

By using heat, a physical therapist seeks to get more blood to the affected area because an increase in blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to the area. Blood is needed to remove waste byproducts that are created by muscle spasms, and it also aids in healing.

Cold therapy slows circulation and helps to reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, and pain.

Your physical therapist will often alternate between hot and cold therapies.

When you are first injured, either in a car accident or another traumatic event, you can use hot and cold therapies at home.

  • Use ice first to bring down any inflammation, and after 24-48 hours you can switch between ice and heat.

Remember, never put ice or heat directly on your skin, wrap it in a towel first.


By increasing blood circulation, an ultrasound helps to reduce muscle spasms, cramping, swelling, and pain. It sends sound waves deep into your muscle’s tissues, creating a gentle heat that enhances healing and circulation.

Active Treatments for Whiplash

In active physical therapy, your therapist will teach you various exercises to help work on your range of motion and strength. Your physical therapy program will be designed for your unique situation, based on your health and medical history.

If needed, you will learn how to correct your posture and incorporate these exercises into your daily activities. Even after you recover from whiplash, these posture exercises will help prevent other forms of neck pain that develop from daily living and poor posture.

Overall, the goal of physical therapy for whiplash is to help reduce muscle spasms, increase blood circulation, and promote healing.

Treating Whiplash

If you are suffering from whiplash pain, don’t wait. Come visit our compassionate physical therapy team at Impact Medical Wesley Chapel and we will help you on your road to healing.

Call us to schedule a physical therapy consultation today at (813) 953-1002!