How to Treat Whiplash

Whiplash is caused by a sudden movement that forces the head forward and backward with significant force. It’s usually prompted by a car accident, sports injury or physical abuse. Muscles and tendons in the neck stretch during the ordeal, causing pain, swelling and tighter muscles. Some individuals experience pain immediately, while others don't feel anything for some time afterwards.

When a neck injury causes pain, it seems the world comes to a grinding halt. The constant discomfort and lack of mobility cause each day to drag on longer than the previous one. Unfortunately, there is no magical salve or potion that can be applied to an injured muscle or joint. In fact, you need time and rest to subside the swelling and inflammation.

But before you close your eyes at night, make sure you have correctly adjusted your pillow so that it doesn't put too much pressure on the affected area. It's important not to get into habits like sleeping on your back, so as not to agitate your muscles properly, because this could lead to more serious conditions that are hard to remedy.

Injuring your neck is incredibly upsetting, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic! There are many treatments available for whiplash, from those you can use at home to medical help. Check out the tips below to learn how to treat whiplash in a safe and effective manner.

Exercise

For many years, whiplash was treated the same way in North America as in Europe. The most favored method was to keep the patient's head still, either by using a device that prevents head movement or even surgery, which moves 4 bones in the neck (at C1-C4) so they no longer meet together properly and hold the skull in place. However, recent studies have proven that this treatment will not lead to healing and usually prolongs your recovery. Moreover, immobility may lead to muscles wasting away over time. If you were recently involved in a car crash or other industrial injury, then it might be best to seek an alternative treatment, because gentle exercise can help increase blood flow, which boosts healing from these injuries.

For many years after an accident, people who experienced whiplash were advised not to move their necks for long periods. However, if you keep your neck in one place for too long, this can delay healing and make it more difficult for you to move freely in the future. If your doctor cleared you after being treated for a serious spinal injury like whiplash, gentle exercises can actually help improve blood flow to the injured area, which reduces pain and improves range of motion.

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

Physical Therapy

An unexpected sudden movement commonly causes a whiplash injury. This can cause an injury in multiple parts of the back, often involving ligaments and muscles as well as tendons. Speak to a physical therapist about a rehabilitation plan for pain relief and recovery from this type of injury. Your physical therapist will first assess your current state and determine your needs to put together the most detailed plan possible. You can also perform exercises during the physical therapy session or at home that help your body recover from a whiplash-related injury.

Your physical therapist may suggest alternative treatments like:

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

Hot or Cold Therapy

heat or Cold, therapy? These are two popular therapies that can help soothe the muscles and inflammation from a whiplash injury. Here’s a quick overview of each therapy.

Cold Therapy

Every patient is unique and may require different treatment options for neck injuries. For instance, if the injury is related to a motor vehicle accident or sports-related activity, the most important thing to remember is that time is of the essence, as every hour after an injury, swelling and/or inflammation occurs, which increases the chances of permanent damage to soft tissue or ligaments around the neck. The initial step after any injury should be to apply cold therapy packs in short intervals, i.e. 15 to 20 minutes at a time on the injured area. Cold causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing swelling and preventing further damage to already affected tissues around the neck, leading to safer recovery time. If a person falls asleep with a cold pack on his/her neck, there are chances that he/she may suffer tissue damage (sore spots) beneath the skin surface due to inadequate blood supply beneath skin, and thus cause delayed healing of damaged tissues.

Heat Therapy

After the initial few days of your injury, you can start using heat. The heat will soothe your muscles and encourage a feeling of relaxation. Heat not only loosens muscles, it encourages blood flow to the area, expediting the healing process. Use moist heat with a herbal heating pad covering your neck and back muscles for about 15 - 20 minutes twice a day.

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 this relief, depending on where your woe is most profoundly felt.

Over-the-Counter

When dealing with a mild injury, doctors may recommend a patient take over-the-counter drugs for pain relief. One type of medication is called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, often referred to as NSAIDs. These include ibuprofen (Advil), which can actually help with inflammation and pain, and acetaminophen like Tylenol.

Prescription

If the pain is intense, your doctor may 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. But be careful, because of the rise in addiction to prescription drugs, some doctors now prefer to offer other kinds of treatment for those suffering from pain, such as chiropractic care.

Neck Support

Another type of whiplash treatment is cervical neck support, such as a cervical collar. A cervical collar is a type of headgear that supports the back of your head and neck region. It helps align your neck naturally, boosting your ability to sleep better and reducing any pain you may be feeling following an injury or accident.

Night Time Treatment

Getting a good night’s sleep with a whiplash injury is essential to healing. You could be dealing with pain, stiffness in your neck muscles, or even insomnia if you still have symptoms from the accident. You will want to try these techniques below to see if they help you find the much-needed rest at night after all the work is done during the day! If not, then it may be time to talk to your doctor about other options available!

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

  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Medications
  • Nighttime routine
  • Meditation

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 massage soothes their muscles. Massage increases blood flow to the area, opens up tough muscle knots, and can lessen tension and spasms. Self-massages are easy to perform using a tennis ball and working through the soft tissue by rolling it over each area of the body, or by using the fingers to compress the skin around the painful or tense areas of the shoulder, back or neck. Hiring even a licensed massage therapist could help you get out of a tight spot if you're dealing with chronic pain for long periods.

Will Whiplash Heal on its Own?

People experiencing pain following a whiplash injury should be aware that it is a condition that could last several months. Those who experience post-traumatic symptoms, numbness or dizziness from the accident are likely to experience more severe pain. People wearing their seatbelts at the time of the crash could also develop persistent neck and shoulder pain.

Your recovery from whiplash depends on several factors. These can include factors such as the severity of your accident, or how quickly you sought medical attention afterwards. Whiplash itself tends to heal on its own, but not always - and if your pain doesn’t subside after a few days, or it gets worse, it may be time to visit a doctor! An X-ray or an MRI could help determine whether there has been any damage to the surrounding soft tissue, and help plan for whichever treatment or medication is required for your particular injury.

Precautions When Treating Whiplash

It's no secret that Whiplash can lead to many problems. However, the early detection and immediate treatment of these symptoms can help limit those problems by reducing their severity. To ensure you're doing everything you can to both treat and prevent any muscle pain or injury related symptom associated with Whiplash, it is important to communicate thoroughly with your physician as soon as possible, so they can determine the best course of action for your specific case.

The sooner you can identify and begin treating your injuries, the better chance you can recover faster, but also stay healthier in general for the foreseeable future. So if you were injured in a car accident or sports injury, always be sure to see your doctor immediately, so that you can take care of yourself and get the proper treatment.

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