A whiplash injury can affect every aspect of your life, from driving and sleeping to having a conversation. Adding whiplash exercises to your daily routine is an important part of treating the resulting neck pain. Try these techniques to recover faster and relieve your symptoms.
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Know the Causes
Before you attempt to heal your neck, it's important to understand what is causing your symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, whiplash usually occurs as a result of a forceful and quick movement of the neck in the back-and-forth direction. This type of injury is most commonly associated with being rear-ended in a car accident, but traumatic sports injuries, falls and physical abuse can also be to blame.
Read more: Can I Work Out If I Have Whiplash?
Because of the rapid shortening and elongation of the neck and upper back muscles during a whiplash injury, it's not unusual to feel pain or soreness in these areas afterward. You may also find that your neck feels stiff and your range of motion is limited, making daily tasks like checking your blind spot or rolling over in bed difficult.
Depending on the severity of your injury, you may also experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue or numbness and tingling down your arms. Most times, these issues subside within weeks, but in some people, they can persist for several months. Speak to your doctor if your symptoms are not improving and try to avoid any exercises that cause pain.
Incorporating light strengthening and gentle stretches for whiplash into your daily routine may help relieve the pain.
Isometrics and Stretches for Whiplash
It's possible to treat your neck pain with exercise. According to an August 2016 Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy study, people with whiplash who performed neck-specific exercises reported high satisfaction with the outcome.
The first step to pain relief is to incorporate some light stretches for whiplash into your routine. These techniques, which are described by the University of California, Berkeley, can help elongate tight neck and upper back muscles (like your upper trapezius and levator scapulae) and slowly improve your range of motion.
- Hold on to the left side of a chair to depress or lower your shoulder. Then slowly lean your head to your right side until you feel a gentle stretch in the left part of your neck.
- Maintain the pull for 20 seconds before alternating sides and repeating the exercise.
- Next, place your right hand behind your back and use your left hand to guide your neck downward and slightly to the side as you look toward your left hip.
- Again, hold the stretch for 20 seconds before reversing it to the right side. Perform these light exercises frequently throughout the day.
Whiplash exercises also include isometric movements. As Saint Luke's Hospital reports, this light strengthening method is a good way to activate your neck and upper back muscles without worsening the pain.
- Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your back resting against the seat.
- Press the palm of your hand against your forehead and lightly push your head into it. Make sure to keep your effort low enough where you do not cause pain.
- Hold this pressure for 10 seconds before relaxing and repeat it five times
- When this is complete, alternate your hand location to the right side, left side and back of your head and repeat the same exercise here.
- The isometrics can be completed several times each day, and you can gradually increase your pressure as they get easier and less painful.
Read more: Foam Roller Exercises for the Neck
Add in Scapular Squeezes
Following a traumatic injury, strengthening the scapular muscles in your upper back is extremely important. According to the North American Spine Society, focusing on the shoulder blade muscles may help promote better posture and improve the stability of your neck. In addition, a February 2020 systematic review published in the Asian Spine Journal found that scapular strengthening is an effective way to treat neck pain.
The scapular squeeze is one of the whiplash exercises that target this area. Simply follow these steps:
- Stand with your arms hanging at your side, your head facing straight ahead and your shoulders relaxed.
- Gently move your shoulders backward and pull your shoulder blades into a down and back position. Your chest should protrude forward slightly as you make this motion.
- Hold the shoulder blade squeeze for 10 seconds initially and complete five repetitions two times each day. Slowly increase the duration to 30 seconds as you are able.
- As the exercise becomes easier, you can progress by anchoring a resistance band to a door and pulling toward you with both ends of it while doing a scapular squeeze.
- Mayo Clinic: “Whiplash”
- University of Califoria, Berkeley: “Neck Pain”
- Saint Luke’s Hospital: “Exercises: Neck Isometrics”
- North American Spine Society: “Cervical Exercise: The Backbone of Spine Treatment”
- Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: "Satisfaction With the Outcome of Physical Therapist–Prescribed Exercise in Chronic Whiplash–Associated Disorders: Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial"
- Asian Spine Journal: "Is Scapular Stabilization Exercise Effective for Managing Nonspecific Chronic Neck Pain?: A Systematic Review"