Neck whiplash, which is also sometimes known as a neck strain or neck sprain, is a common neck injury, in which the soft tissues in the neck are damaged. Initially, a neck whiplash injury is treated by immobilization, pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medications, and applications of ice. A couple of days after the whiplash occurs, doctors will typically recommend applying both heat and ice to the area, along with exercising the neck.
Immobilization is the first step after a neck whiplash injury. Resting the neck and not moving it during the first couple days after the injury is important, since it can help prevent further injury. Many times, a doctor will recommend a whiplash patient wear something known as a cervical collar. This device can prevent a person from moving his neck.
Since a neck whiplash injury is often accompanied by a great deal of pain, most patients opt to take a pain medication. Most injuries of this sort typically only require an over-the-counter pain reliever, but some doctors may prescribe a stronger pain medication, if a patient is in a significant amount of pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs are also extremely helpful after a whiplash injury, since these will help relieve any inflammation in the area.
During the first couple of days after a neck whiplash injury, most doctors also suggest applying an ice pack to the area for a few minutes at a time. This will also help relieve any pain and swelling. After any swelling goes down, usually within a day or two, a patient can then start alternating ice with heat. For example, he would apply ice for roughly ten minutes, rest for ten minutes, then apply heat for ten minutes. The heat can help relieve stiffness, but it should not be applied if there is any swelling in the area.
Research also suggests that neck exercises for whiplash can also help speed recovery time and prevent the injury from becoming a chronic problem. These exercises should be done soon after the injury occurs, and can include rotating the had from side to side, and up and down. They are usually done several times a day. Some patients may even opt for physical therapy, especially after a severe neck whiplash injury.
Recovery from neck whiplash will typically take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. If symptoms last longer than this or get worse, it may be necessary for a patient to go back to his doctor, who can check for more significant injuries. Certain symptoms — like vision problems, numbness in the hands or feet, or dizziness — could be signs of a more severe problem, like a spine injury, and should be checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.