Whiplash Symptoms & At Home Treatments

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a widely known term used for neck strains. Differentiated from neck sprains, which affect the connective ligaments of the cervical vertebrae, neck strains occur when the muscles and tendons of the neck become stressed and stretched. In some cases, these muscles and tendons can even tear.

Most commonly known for its association with car accidents, whiplash can really be caused by a number of different situation. Any forceful blow causing the head to whip violently back and forth, or side-to-side, can result in whiplash. This includes falls, sports injuries, punches to the head, or even roller coasters.

How does one know if he or she has whiplash? What will the signs be? It is important to pay attention to your body. Attention is especially critical due to the fact that whiplash is not easily viewed on MRIs or CT scans. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

Symptoms of Whiplash

There are many symptoms of whiplash, depending upon the severity of the injury. The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Localized pain in the neck will be felt, with severe cases of pain radiating down the back or into the shoulders.
  • Decreased Range of Motion: Tightness in the neck and shoulders will often lead to a decreased range of motion in the neck and shoulders.
  • Hard or Knotted Muscles: Muscles may feel hard and knotted due to inflammation and swelling from damage.
  • Pain Associated with Movement: There may be an increase in pain experienced when moving the head from side to side or looking up or down.
  • Headaches: Headaches will often occur as a result of tension, inflammation, and swelling. These typically originate on the back of the neck at the base of the skull, radiating upward over the crown of the head.
  • Cognitive or Coordination Issues: In very severe cases, the brain can also become damaged. In particular, concussions are common companions to whiplash. Memory, coordination, and cognitive functioning may be impaired as a result. Dizziness is also a common side effect when the brain has been affected. It is best to seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing these symptoms.

For many, the symptoms of whiplash will dissipate after a few days. For others, it may take up to 2 to 3 months for the neck to heal and for symptoms to subside. In some severe cases, however, neck pain and other symptoms can persist, requiring medical intervention.

For most, whiplash will come accompanied by minor symptoms.  And, although it is always a good idea to have it looked at by a doctor, there is not actually much a doctor can do for mild to moderate cases of whiplash. Thankfully, there are a number of steps you can adopt at home to help alleviate the pain and discomfort of whiplash

woman with ice pack on neck for whiplash

At Home Treatments for Whiplash

If you have whiplash, your doctor may suggest a variety of at home treatments to reduce or alleviate the pain. These treatments may include:

  1. Rest: Resting your neck and head is a great first step to toning down that neck pain. However, keep in mind that rest is no longer recommended after the first 24 hours, as it actually may hinder your recovery. Laying still for too long may result in a worsening of pain and stiffness in the neck. Try to return to your normal activities within 24 hours, taking care not to strain the neck any further.
  2. Wear A Foam Collar: Although not the most up-and-coming in fashion trends, a rigid foam collar can help avoid further strain of the neck during the first few days of recovery. Don’t wear this collar for too long, though, as it can actually hurt your neck more than help. Wear this collar for only a few hours at a time each day during the first week of your recovery.
  3. Medication: Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications can provide relief from inflammation, swelling, and pain caused by whiplash. For more severe pain including muscle tension and spasms, muscle relaxers or stronger medications may be prescribed by a physician.
  4. Ice/Heat Application: Following the onset of whiplash symptoms, the use of ice and heat can help the muscles recover. The application of cold packs for the first 2 to 3 days can help reduce inflammation and swelling. Ice can be followed with the application of heat for the next 2 to 3 days. Moist heat can help the muscles recover by inducing relaxation and relief of pain. Ice and heat are typically most effective when applied for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every 2 to 3 hours.
  5. Pay Attention to Posture & Sleep Positions: Staying aware of posture and sleeping positions can help in the speedy healing of the neck. Sit up straight and try not to  crane your neck when working on your computer or looking at your phone. Sleeping on your back is best for recovery from whiplash, as laying on your side or stomach can lead to neck twisting and craning. The use of a supportive travel pillow may help in keeping your neck aligned.
  6. Exercise: Exercise and stretching can often aid during recovery from whiplash. If the neck is not moved, the muscles and tendons can become stiff, rigid, and even more painful. Special care must be taken not to further strain the neck, however. A visit to your doctor or physical therapist can help ensure you get the exercise you need without sustaining further damage to your neck.

yoga to relieve whiplash

When To See a Doctor

If your whiplash symptoms haven’t subsided within a week–or if you exhibit emergency symptoms, such as cognitive issues–it may be time to see your local orthopedist. A spine specialist can diagnose the source of your pain and ensure that you haven’t sustained any vertebral compression fractures along with your injury. Vertebral compression fractures, while not life-threatening in nature, typically require prompt intervention and minimally invasive surgery. Depending upon your situation, your doctor may recommend a minimally invasive kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty. For prompt whiplash relief, contact our team of spine specialists at NYC Spine! Dr. Daveed Frazier specializes in burst, wedge, and compression fractures. With over 20 years of minimally invasive surgical experience and Harvard-training, your spine is in skilled hand with Dr. Frazier!

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