Five Things I’ve Learned From Physical Therapy for Whiplash

I thought that a whiplash was something that people claimed that they had to just get money from an insurance company before I was rear-ended by another car on the freeway in April. Boy, was I wrong! It’s very real and very painful!

Right after the accident, I think that I was so mad and upset (my car was not yet 4 months old and didn’t even have a scratch on it) that I really didn’t feel anything was wrong. I think that adrenalin kicks in at first.  In twenty-four hours, I started to feel a little stiff but didn’t think much about it but by the third day, I couldn’t turn my head from side to side without a lot of pain. That’s when I knew that whiplash was real.

I first went to my regular doctor and he gave me some muscle relaxants and something for the pain but they put me to sleep and I didn’t want to take them so I opted for physical therapy.  While I’d had physical therapy for my knee surgeries, I had no idea what they would do for my neck, shoulders and upper back (what exercises would you do for your neck, right?) but I hurt so badly, I’d try anything so I headed for my first appointment with Sports Institute Physical Therapy.

The first visit I was evaluated and then turned over to the therapist who would work with me, Brandon, for a massage.  I thought great! A massage – that would feel good!  Oh, no. I was in for deep tissue massage and that is anything but a feel-good massage. So, let me tell you what I’ve learned so far in my quest to get healed from this, as the doctor called it, “moderate whiplash.”

1.  Deep tissue massage is painful at the time. They work hard and deep on your muscles – so hard in fact at times you’re close to tears. It still hurts as I’m driving home and usually until I go to bed that night. Brandon massages the muscles in my neck, upper back and shoulders for a solid hour. For one appointment, I had another therapist who actually left me bruised. By the next day, I can move my neck more and have less pain though so it is worth it!

2.  When your neck hurts your body compensates by trying to move your shoulders up to help hold up that heavy head that you have.  Brandon has worked on pushing my shoulders back and down and making me more conscious of them. He also told me to grab a pair of about 5-pound weights – one in each hand and stand with my back against a wall and try to just keep my shoulders back and down with the weights.  I hold it for about 3 to 5 minutes at a time. Sounds like nothing for someone who works out but you’d be surprised how when your neck hurts those shoulders start edging up.

3.  Ice – Brandon has taught me that ice is like a magic potion for your body! Every night, after dinner, I get out this 14-inch long ice pack I bought on Amazon and wrap it in a small towel and put it around my neck.  Brandon says you don’t want to over d0 it, so I put it on for about 20 minutes and then take it off for about 20 minutes and then repeat the process for a couple of hours.  It’s amazing how much better it makes my neck feel!


ICE- the miracle drug

4.  On my desk at work, I have 2 monitors on stands that were in a “V” position and I would turn my head back and forth between the two.  Needless to say, that hurt!  First I tried taking them off the stands but found that I was looking down and that was hurting so I put them back on the stands. Then I tried putting them just side by side, but that made me turn my head more and made it worse.  I kept experimenting and as the range of motion in my neck has improved I have them on the stands and at a very open “V” position now.  I really can’t wait until I can get them back to where I had them before the accident!

5. Like everything else, it just takes time to heal! I’m a very impatient person and am used to working out 5 times a week and have not been able to do that since April so this hasn’t been easy for me at all! I have gone to physical therapy twice a week just about every week and like I said used my ice and followed all the doctor’s instructions because I want this to be over with and my life back to normal.  As I’ve progressed the doctor has told me that I could try my different workouts and if they hurt to stop.  I’ve gotten back into my yoga and cardio workouts and just tried the weight training without pain, so all that is good.  What does still hurt is driving – turning my head when I drive still hurts but I’m hoping that soon this too shall pass.

I hope that none of you are ever in a car accident and get a whiplash but if you ever do, or have had any similar injury, that these few tips can help you out.  If you have any questions or comments or things that you’ve tried for whiplash, I’d love to hear from you in the comments here.


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I have been an International Sports Science Association Certified Personal Trainer since 2009, a Certified Boxing Fitness Trainer and I love helping women over 40 stay fit and healthy or getting their health and fitness back after spending all their time taking care of others.

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