Treatment for individuals with whiplash injury may include pain medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and a cervical collar (usually worn for 2 to 3 weeks). Range of motion exercises, physical therapy, and cervical traction may also be prescribed. Supplemental heat application may relieve muscle tension.
First Aid at Home
Home care is intended to relieve the pain and minimize the amount of inflammation in the soft tissues of the neck.
The standard approach to all injuries of the soft tissues should be followed:
- Apply an ice pack immediately to reduce swelling, avoid direct contact with the skin.
- Take regular pain relief using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Initial rest should soon give way to a gentle increase in movement, but don't overdo it.
Here are some exercises to relieve pain and stiffness in the neck following a whiplash injury.
- Stand against a door or a wall with your head facing forward and move your eyes so you look towards the two, four, eight, and 10 o'clock positions. Repeat this a few times. This eye movement causes a slight movement in some deep muscles in the back of the head.
- Next, take a step forward and perform the following movements.
- Bend the back of the head carefully forward as if taking a bow. Return to the starting position with your head straight and facing forward.
- Draw the chin in towards your neck and bend the head carefully forward. Return to the starting position. Bend the head backwards far enough to look at the ceiling. Return to the starting position.
- Tilt the head sideways, so the right ear is near the right shoulder. If possible try to maintain the glance at a fixed point at eye level. Return to the starting position. Repeat this action with the head tilted to the other side.
- Turn the head as if trying to look backwards over the shoulder, first to the left and then to the right. Imagine following a horizontal line on the wall at eye level.
- You can also use a beach ball or a soft ball to exercise the head and neck muscles. Place the ball between the wall and the forehead and then try to move it around on the wall in circles or figures of eights. Repeat the exercise, this time placing the ball between the back of the head and the wall.
Medically, a cervical collar is the first thing necessary in whiplash treatment. Its role is to avoid further movement of the neck, which can cause more damage to the soft tissues. Doctors also recommend a short period of neck rest, followed by gradual neck massage.
The doctor most likely will recommend a treatment plan including a mixture of the following:
- Neck massage
- Neck rest
- Bed rest
- Ice therapy
- Heat therapy
- Oral pain relievers and muscle relaxers
- Immobilization of the neck with a soft cervical collar (only a minimal benefit if any at all)
- Early range of motion exercises combined with heat therapy starting 72 hours after the injury to restore flexibility
- Avoidance of excessive neck strain for the next week and then increased activity as tolerated in the following weeks
Other treatments that may help include massage, traction, ultrasound and physical treatments. A physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor can advise you.
If you have neck pain caused by whiplash injury, a physiotherapist may be able to help by using treatments such as manipulation and massage. They will be able to give you advice on neck exercises you can do to help relieve the pain and stiffness in your neck.
Osteopathy uses manipulation to treat conditions caused by problems with the nerves, joints and muscles, such as back and neck problems and sports or work injuries.
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