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Whiplash is a neck strain injury often associated with car accidents, but it can also occur in contact sports, such as football. The impact or blow causes the head to quickly jerk forward or backward, resulting in stretched or torn muscles and tendons in the neck. Symptoms include pain and stiffness when moving your head, decreased range of motion, and headaches that radiate from the base of the skull to the forehead. The symptoms can be immediate or develop hours or days after the impact. It is important to see your doctor if you’ve experienced whiplash because concussions can also result from the blow that caused the whiplash.
Recovery for whiplash often includes:
- Applying ice and moist heat. For the first 2 – 3 days of the injury, the application of ice to the neck for 15 minutes every 3 – 4 hours helps to reduce swelling. After icing for the first few days and after the swelling has gone down, using moist heat is also beneficial.
- Taking NSAIDs or other medications recommended by your doctor. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help with pain and swelling. Doctors may prescribe other medications, such as a muscle relaxant, if NSAIDs do not provide relief.
- Using a neck brace or collar. Your doctor may recommend this treatment to help support your neck, but this recommendation is not usually for long-term use, since it can result in weakened neck muscles.
- Getting a massage or ultrasound. These treatment options can also aid in the recovery of whiplash and may be recommended by your doctor.
Because the neck and spine are complex, recovery time for whiplash can range from a few days to weeks or longer depending on the severity of the injury. A specialist will be equipped to diagnose the severity and offer a cautious, tailored care plan. Additionally, they may recommend rehabilitation to help make your muscles stronger in recovery as well as help prevent future neck strains. It is important to recover fully before returning to sports or other activities and then to start slowly. Do not try to immediately return to your previous activity levels.