At-Home Treatments for Whiplash


What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs from a forceful back-and-forth motion of the head. During the rapid whip-like movement, muscles and ligaments in the neck become extended beyond their normal range of motion, causing them to stretch and tear. Intervertebral joints, discs, and nerve roots may also be damaged due to whiplash.

Although typically a mild condition, whiplash may develop into chronic pain, especially if left untreated. When following a proper treatment plan, recovery time is usually within a few weeks.

Conventional treatment for whiplash typically involves prescription pain medication, muscle relaxants, and the use of a foam collar to stabilize the neck. A physician may also write a referral for physical therapy.

At-home treatments

In addition to conventional treatments, certain at-home treatment options can assist in the healing process. This includes over-the-counter medication, temperature therapy, rest, and gentle exercises.

  • Over-the-counter medications
    Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin, may help reduce whiplash pain. If other pain medications are prescribed, a health care professional should be consulted to ensure which over-the-counter pain medication can be safely combined with the prescription.
  • Temperature therapy
    Applying a heating pad or ice pack to the neck for 15 minutes every three hours can help ease pain. Cold temperatures reduce swelling and inflammation, while warm temperatures relax stiff joints and muscles. Ice is typically the best option for the first 24 hours following an injury. After the first 24-48 hours, either heat, ice or both can be used.
  • Rest
    For a day or two following the injury, it is important to rest and avoid moving the neck. However, immobilizing the neck for too long can delay recovery.
  • Gentle exercise
    After resting for a day or two, gentle exercises are recommended in order to regain flexibility in the neck. These can be done at home or with the help of a physical therapist. These exercises may include chin tucks, side-to-side head rotation, side bending stretch, and shoulder rolls.

For more information on how to safely do chin tucks, side-to-side head rotations or side bending, check out these videos from SpineUniverse.

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