How is whiplash treated?

In the past, healthcare providers recommended using a cervical collar to prevent the neck from moving after a whiplash injury. That guidance has changed.

Evolving medical research shows it can help to carefully stretch or move your sore neck muscles soon after a whiplash injury. You may be able to start gentle neck movements the next day. Follow your provider’s instructions to avoid injuring your neck further.

Other whiplash treatments include:

  • Ice or heat applied to the injury site for the first 24 hours after you hurt yourself.
  • Medication to reduce pain and swelling. Over-the-counter pain medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®), may help. Or your provider may prescribe muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine (Amrix®, Flexeril®) or antidepressants.
  • Physical therapy, which may include exercises and stretches that slowly and safely strengthen sore neck muscles.
  • Support devices, such as a soft neck brace that comforts the neck muscles for short periods.
  • Steroid injections or lidocaine injections to put medication directly where you hurt, which may provide relief.
  • Alternative therapies, such as massage or chiropractic techniques (called spinal manipulation), focus on how the mind-body connection can promote wellness.

What are the complications of whiplash?

Most people start feeling better a few days after a whiplash injury. People usually recover fully within a few weeks. Others experience lingering pain or other symptoms months or even years later.

It’s tough to know how anyone will recover from whiplash. You may be more likely to experience long-term effects after a more severe injury (affecting multiple body parts) or intense pain.

Older adults or people with previous back or neck injuries may be more likely to have difficult-to-treat pain or challenges during recovery from whiplash.

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