The pain from a whiplash injury can range from mild discomfort to excruciating and debilitating. In any case, the right treatment can make all the difference in reducing the pain and restoring your range of motion and quality of life. The question is, though, what is the right treatment?
While only your health care provider can determine what the right course of action for your unique case should be, most whiplash patients receive at least one of the following treatments. Depending on the severity of your injury and your discomfort, whiplash treatment can take anywhere from a few days to a few months; in most cases, with proper treatment, the symptoms of whiplash will disappear completely within six to nine months. That treatment usually includes neck pain therapy options like the following.
For Mild Cases of Whiplash
After you have had a doctor confirm your whiplash is not more serious, most mild cases of whiplash are treated using over-the-counter medication, exercise, and in some cases, a neck brace.
The most important thing to remember with a mild case of whiplash is that movement is important. While your doctor might provide you with a cervical neck brace to immobilize your neck in the short term (usually a few days), remaining immobile is usually worse for the injury, as it leads to stiffness and soreness.
Once the most acute symptoms of whiplash have subsided, it’s usually better to perform some light stretches as directed by your physician, who will demonstrate the proper movements and techniques. These exercises will help to strengthen your neck muscles and allow them to become more limber to both improve recovery time and reduce the chance of re-injury.
Many patients with mild whiplash are also directed to use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to help relieve the pain. Some might also receive prescription muscle relaxers or painkillers to help with the first few days of the injury.
Applying ice or heat to the affected area several times per day has also been proven effective for reducing the discomfort of minor whiplash.
For More Serious Cases of Whiplash
For whiplash injuries that are more severe, or that do not respond to the common home remedies, health care providers may take more aggressive actions. Among the common treatments include:
- Physical therapy. In addition to the basic stretches for mild cases, those experiencing chronic pain or ongoing effects to their range of motion may have to work with a physical therapist, who will devise an exercise routine that the patient can do at home to reduce discomfort and increase range of motion.
- Manual/Massage Therapies. Gentle massage of the injured area can help loosen tight muscles, reducing discomfort and the chance of further injury.
- Medication. In some cases, physical therapists will inject lidocaine into painful areas in order to numb the area to allow for less painful exercise. Patients in extreme pain may also be prescribed painkillers for short-term use.
- Chiropractic care. A chiropractor will manipulate the joints as a means of providing pain relief. This tends to be most effective when combined with physical therapy and other exercise.
In very rare cases, your physician may determine that surgery is necessary to relieve the pain of your whiplash injuries. Typically, this is only in cases in which the whiplash has caused a herniated disc, which causes more intense pain.
Developing a Treatment Plan
The best way to ensure that your whiplash is treated quickly and successfully is to seek medical care as soon as possible after the injury takes place. The longer you wait, the more painful and damaging the injury will become.
Since it’s likely that your first encounters with medical personnel will be the providers at the scene of your accident, or in the emergency room, your initial whiplash treatment is most likely going to be focused on stabilizing your neck and reducing your pain in the short term. More long-term treatment plans will require a visit to your primary care physician, or a specialist clinic.
When you do go to your follow-up visit, be prepared to answer some important questions about your injury and your symptoms. Among the things you will want to cover with your provider include:
- How the injury occurred, when the symptoms first began, and what treatments you’ve had thus far
- Your symptoms, including what causes pain, how severe the pain is, and what brings relief
- Any exercises or medications you’ve tried
Armed with that information, your physician can develop a detailed and effective treatment plan or refer you to a specialist. Again, though, it’s important to remember that healing from a whiplash injury takes time, and even with a comprehensive plan in place, it can still take months for the treatments to make a measurable difference in your overall pain and mobility.