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How Long Does Whiplash Last?

Whiplash symptoms can last from a few days to many months or even longer, depending on the severity of the injury to the soft tissue in your neck and upper back.

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Whiplash injuries can’t always be felt immediately following a car accident. It is common for symptoms to develop between 6 and 12 hours after the crash, while some can appear days after, and get progressively worse.

There are some cases where sufferers have persistent neck pain a year after the initial cause of the injury.

How Does Whiplash Occur?

Whiplash occurs when the head is jolted forward and then snaps back. This type of injury is most common in road traffic accidents and can happen irrespective of the speed of the impact.

Likened to the cracking of a whip, the sudden movement in the neck damages the tendons and ligaments and can be very painful, with many additional symptoms other than a sore neck.

Whiplash occurs when the force of an impact is felt most in the head and neck as they are thrown forwards or back while your body remains in position because of your seatbelt.

Injuries can be more severe if your head is turned at the time of the collision, or if you’re not expecting it.

Scientific studies show whiplash injuries can be sustained at low speeds of as little as 5 miles per hour (Howard, 1998), although insurers can challenge injury claims involving low-speed impacts.

This is usually all to do with the individual circumstances of the direction of impact and position in the vehicle. Additionally, the size of the passenger or driver makes a difference in the resulting injury. A small female will experience two to four times the head linear acceleration as a larger male in the same crash. The male, however, will experience greater rearward bending.” (Croft, 2008).

Car accidents aren’t the only cause of whiplash, any sudden movement of the head and neck can cause whiplash injuries, but it is one of the most common injuries as a result of road traffic accidents.

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What Is The Fastest Way To Recover From Whiplash?

If you think you have whiplash, you should take some immediate steps to minimise the recovery time. You can wrap some ice or a bag of frozen peas in a towel and apply to the sore areas for 20 minutes at a time and take painkillers.

However, it’s advisable to see a GP or go to A&E for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Because whiplash symptoms may take some time to appear, you might feel ok for several hours or even several days after the accident before developing symptoms. These symptoms can last for days, weeks, months and even years, depending on the severity of your injury.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Whiplash?

It is often overlooked as a minor injury, but a study on whiplash recovery time by Arthur Ameis in 1986 showed that 71% of people still had some symptoms more than 7 years after sustaining their injury.

Ameis also noted that “after 18 – 24 months, almost all patients with moderate injury will have reached functional recovery, although some report recovery up to five years later.”

Recovery Time For Mild Whiplash

Sufferers of whiplash from a minor car accident may have only a few days of neck and upper back pain.

Milder cases of whiplash are treated with paracetamol, or anti-inflammatory pills such as ibuprofen and symptoms usually subside within a few weeks. It is advisable to try and keep the head and neck mobile rather than put in a brace, as this can aid the healing process.

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Recovery Time For Chronic Whiplash

For those involved in a more serious accident, there can be severe pain and difficulty moving the neck and head, and full symptoms may only present themselves a days after the impact.

Severe whiplash injuries can last for months, and on rare occasions, the symptoms may never fully disappear. The pain and stiffness in the neck can be accompanied with upper or lower back pain, severe headaches, sleepless nights and affected vision among other symptoms.

Recovery time may depend on the treatment you seek for your injuries. Long term physiotherapy or rehabilitation may be required.

Long Term Whiplash Symptoms

If whiplash lasts longer than six months, then it’s usually referred to as chronic whiplash and treated with prescribed painkillers and ongoing physiotherapy.

Symptoms of Whiplash

There are several typical whiplash symptoms, including:

  • Neck pain (including difficulty in moving up, down, and side to side.)
  • Upper and lower back pain.
  • Discomfort or pain in shoulders and arms.
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Headaches, often at the base of the skull.
  • Dizziness, nausea, fatigue, or loss of balance.
  • Swelling and inflammation.
  • Psychological symptoms.

In addition to the above symptoms, some cases of whiplash can include the following:

  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Memory problems.
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
  • Irritability.
  • Depression.

How To Make A Whiplash Compensation Claim

You may be able to claim compensation for whiplash if you’ve been injured in a road accident that wasn’t your fault.

Our comprehensive guide to making a claim explains your legal rights and what to expect from the claims process.

With nearly 300 combined years of legal experience, our solicitor’s tailor-made whiplash claims process takes care of the complex legal work for you.


Ameis, Arthur, MD; Cervical Whiplash: Considerations in the Rehabilitation of Cervical Myofascial Injury; Canadian Family Physician Volume 32, September 1986
Howard, RP., 1998, Head, neck and mandible dynamics generated by ‘whiplash’
Peloso, PM., 2006, Medicinal and injection therapies for mechanical neck disorders: a Cochrane systematic review.
Tomlinson,P.J., Gargan M.F., and Bannister, G.C.; The fluctuation in recovery following whiplash injury: 7.5-year prospective review; Injury Volume 36, Issue 6, June 2005, pp. 758-761

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