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How to Treat Whiplash

by Patty Weasler, RN March 06, 2020 0 Comments

Woman wearing Neck Brace

Understanding how to treat whiplash is the best way to get a head-start on the recovery process. This condition is caused by a sudden movement that forces the head to go backward and forward with significant force. It’s usually prompted by a car accident, sports injury, or physical abuse. The muscles and tendons in the neck become stretched during the injury causing pain and swelling. Some people feel the effects of whiplash immediately while others don’t for some time afterward.

There are many different treatment options to lessen the pain and symptoms of whiplash ranging from self-care at home to professional help. Keep reading to learn more about how to treat whiplash safely.

Exercise

For many years whiplash was treated with immobilization to prevent further damage. However, keeping the neck immobilized for too long can actually delay healing. Moreover, long periods of rest can cause a decrease in the range of motion, increase the likelihood of chronic symptoms, and muscles to atrophy, or waste away. If your doctor has cleared you from any serious spinal issues, then gentle exercise can actually benefit you by increasing blood flow to the injured area.

Here are a few exercises that can treat whiplash:

  • Shoulder rolls
  • Flexing your neck forward to your chest
  • Side to side head stretches
  • Turning your head to look over both shoulders

Click here to learn more about the most effective whiplash exercises.

Physical Therapy

A whiplash injury can involve multiple muscles and tendons in the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Seeking out a physical therapist’s expertise will give you a customized rehabilitation plan for pain relief and a full recovery. Your physical therapist will assess your current state to determine your needs. Once they’ve developed a plan they will work you through exercises and stretches to do during the physical therapy session and at home.

Your physical therapist may suggest alternative treatments like:

  • Massage
  • Chiropractic care
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Acupuncture

Hot or Cold Therapy

Hot or cold therapy is an easy, effective way to soothe the muscles and inflammation from a whiplash injury. Here’s a quick overview of each therapy.

Cold Therapy

 After the initial injury, cold therapy is generally recommended. Cold causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing swelling. Apply cold packs to the neck for the first couple of days in 15 to 20-minute intervals. Never fall asleep with a cold pack on to prevent skin injury.

Hot Therapy

After the first few days following your injury, you can start using heat. The heat will soothe your muscles and give you an overall sense of relaxation. Heat not only loosens muscles it encourages blood flow to the area which can improve healing time. Use moist heat with a towel or warm shower covering your neck muscles, shoulders, and upper back.

Medication

The symptoms of whiplash can stick around for days or months. Most people will need some sort of medication to find pain relief and comfort. There are either prescription or over-the-counter medications that can help you find pain relief.

Over-the-Counter

For mild injuries, many doctors will recommend over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil). Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a different class of pain medications that can also offer some relief.

Prescription

If the pain is severe then your doctor might prescribe painkillers or muscle relaxants. It’s not uncommon for people to have muscle spasms after a whiplash injury. Taking muscle relaxants will decrease spasms and help you rest more comfortably. Prescription painkillers are carefully prescribed by doctors. With the rise of opioid addiction and unpleasant side effects, painkillers are not always the first line of treatment.

Neck Support

Another type of whiplash treatment is using neck support. A cervical collar or foam collar is a type of support that surrounds your neck, supporting your jaw and neck. It relieves pressure and maintains your neck in a neutral position. People who have had a whiplash injury find that a cervical collar can help them sleep better at night and reduce neck pain.

Night Time Treatment

Getting a good night’s rest with a neck injury like whiplash can be tough. You could be dealing with pain, tight muscles, and overall discomfort at night time when all you want to do is fall asleep. Treating whiplash at nighttime may require multiple methods to help you get the sleep you need. If you aren’t finding the sleep you need with the strategies outlined below talk to your doctor about other methods.

Here are a few ideas to help you sleep after suffering from whiplash:

  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Medications
  • Nighttime routine
  • Meditation

How to Deal with Neck Pain When Sleeping

Massage

Massage is an excellent treatment that can work through the soft tissues in your neck, shoulders, and back. Many people with neck and back pain find that using massage soothes their muscles. Massage increases blood flow to the area, works out tough muscle knots, and can lessen tension and spasms. You can perform a massage on yourself at home or have it done by a licensed massage therapist.

Will Whiplash Heal on its Own?

The pain and discomfort from whiplash can go away on its own after a few days or it can last for months. People who are in pain right after the accident, experience neurological symptoms, or have pain in their arm or fingers are more likely to experience pain for a longer period of time.

Your recovery from whiplash will depend upon the severity of your accident. Many times the sprain will heal on its own with little intervention. If your pain doesn’t go away within a couple of days or gets worse you’ll want to let your doctor know. You might have a more serious injury that requires further testing with x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging.

Precautions When Treating Whiplash

Treating whiplash shouldn’t be taken lightly. Neck injuries from contact sports or a car accident can cause lasting symptoms that can result in chronic pain and other whiplash-associated disorders. Thankfully, there are multiple treatment options to soothe your muscles and prevent further damage. Always talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for your injury and to rule out any additional injuries.

Sources:

https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/whiplash-treatments-and-recovery

https://www.medicinenet.com/whiplash/article.htm

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/when-will-your-whiplash-feel-better/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/whiplash/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20378926

SHOP WHIPLASH PRODUCTS

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Whiplash Exercises

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Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.



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