Whiplash is a common neck injury, affecting about 2 million Americans every year. While most whiplash injuries are associated with car accidents, they can also happen because of falls, sports injuries, and other events that cause your neck and head to “snap” back and forth.
In fact, it’s that “snapping” motion that gives whiplash its characteristic name, like the rapid back-and-forth movement of a whip. Sudden “snapping” strains or tears the soft connective tissues that support your neck, resulting in muscle pain and neck stiffness that can persist for weeks or more.
In more severe cases of whiplash, nerves in your neck can be injured, too, especially if the injury causes disc herniation. When that happens, you might experience pain, numbness, and muscle weakness radiating into your arms and even all the way down to your fingers.
At Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation in Pembroke Pines, Florida, David Berkower, DO, helps men and women manage their whiplash symptoms and get well. If you’ve suffered a whiplash injury, here are five things you can do to reduce your symptoms.
1. Take over-the-counter medication
A lot of the pain associated with whiplash happens when inflammation sets in. Swelling around the neck can cause nerve compression and interfere with circulation.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can help reduce inflammation and pain. These medicines can also make exercise and rehabilitation therapy more tolerable.
2. Use ice, then heat
Applying ice several times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time can help reduce inflammation and swelling. You can use an icepack if you have one, but a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a light cloth can also work well.
Once inflammation starts to decrease, alternating ice therapy with a heating pad can help healing by stimulating circulation and reducing muscle stiffness. If you don’t have a heating pad, a hot compress can work, too, by delivering moist heat to sore muscles.
Being immobile for a long period of time can make whiplash symptoms worse. But right after a whiplash injury, rest is essential for giving your body the resources it needs to start the healing process.
Avoid any activity that puts strain on your neck muscles. That includes activities like lifting, carrying heavy bags, participating in most sports, or doing overhead activities, all of which can exacerbate strain and interfere with the initial stages of healing.
4. Exercise — gently
While rest is important for preventing additional strain, that doesn’t mean you should hold your neck in a rigid, immobile position. Gentle stretches, such as rolling your neck from side to side, may help reduce stiffness and increase circulation to the area. The key is to go very slowly and stop if you feel a lot of pain.
5. Seek your doctor
Like many injuries, whiplash symptoms may seem mild at first, but without the right treatment, they can suddenly become worse. In fact, if your nerves are involved, delaying medical care could result in permanent nerve damage, including permanent weakness or numbness in your arms or hands.
The bottom line is whiplash can cause serious problems, and all whiplash injuries need prompt medical attention. Dr. Berkower can also prescribe more advanced treatment options, such as physical therapy, prescription medicines, or injections, to relieve pain and swelling.
What about foam neck collars?
Foam neck collars were once almost standard care for treating whiplash and relieving its painful symptoms. However, their effectiveness has come into question over time. Some evidence suggests that wearing a collar may make some symptoms worse or prolong symptoms by weakening the neck muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which could make it harder for an injured neck to truly recover.
For now, it’s probably a good idea to avoid using a neck collar without seeing Dr. Berkower first. After he evaluates your symptoms and the extent of your injury, he may recommend short-term use of a neck collar to help reduce inflammation and strain during the initial stages of healing.
Take neck pain seriously
Because whiplash is common, it may be tempting to ignore your symptoms and simply assume they’ll go away. And while mild whiplash can sometimes resolve with rest, it’s also true that even mild cases can turn into serious medical problems if the underlying issues aren’t treated correctly.
If you suspect you have whiplash, or if you have any other type of neck symptoms, seeking prompt medical attention is the best way to prevent those symptoms from getting a lot worse. Instead of ignoring your neck symptoms, call 954-430-9972 or book an appointment online with Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation to learn how Dr. Berkower can help.