Maybe you got into a fender bender after work. Perhaps you took a nasty spill off your bike. Maybe you slipped and fell on the ice outside the house. Whatever the case may be, your neck aches and you know something is wrong. Could it be whiplash?

Whiplash, or neck strain caused by any blow or impact that causes the head to move forward and backward very suddenly, can tear muscles and tendons in the neck and create ongoing pain and discomfort.

Most commonly associated with car accidents, whiplash can be caused by any major impact or accident. And if you think you have it, getting treatment is essential. Here’s what you need to know about whiplash and the risks of not receiving treatment if you’re suffering from it:

What is Whiplash?

There’s a bit difference between whiplash and other types of neck injury. Here’s how the Mayo Clinic defines the former:

“Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip. Whiplash most often occurs during a rear-end auto accident, but the injury can also result from a sports accident, physical abuse or other trauma.”

How do you tell if you have whiplash? The signs and symptoms of whiplash frequently include headaches, neck stiffness and pain, fatigue, dizziness, decreased range of motion in the neck, headaches at the base of the skull and tenderness throughout the shoulders, arms, or upper back.

Generally, whiplash is treatable, and most plans include a combination of medication, exercise, and chiropractic care. In some rare cases, whiplash can create chronic neck pain and other ongoing complications.

When you Should see a Doctor

If you’ve recently suffered any kind of large impact, and now you’re experiencing neck pain or other symptoms, it’s time to see a doctor. Because whiplash typically involves a large impact to the head and neck, it can be accompanied by traumatic brain injuries, concussions, spinal fractures, and other serious conditions that require immediate treatment.

As such, it’s critical to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis and to rule out more serious conditions.

As a general rule, you should see a doctor any time you’ve been involved in an auto accident, been a victim of physical abuse or assault, or participated in a contact sport that involves collisions.

The Treatments for Whiplash

In most cases, the symptoms of whiplash will diminish with time. Here’s what you can do to help promote recovery and support your healing:

1. Start Icing Your Neck

Immediately after impact, start icing your neck. If you do it as soon as possible after the injury, you can reduce pain and swelling and keep your neck from undergoing even more damage.

Wrap an ice pack in a thin towel or cloth to prevent freezing of your skin, and apply the cold compress for 15 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days. This is a simple home remedy, but it can be very powerful.

After about 2-3 days of icing your neck, you can start applying moist heat, such as a towel soaked in hot water, to your neck. A warm bath will also help. Bear in mind that this therapy should only be used after the initial swelling has gone down.

2. Take OTC Painkillers

If your doctor recommends it, take some OTC painkillers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Either of these options will help reduce pain and swelling, and promote ongoing comfort as your neck heals. Be aware that these medications can have side effects.

Unless your doctor recommends it, you should never use them on a daily basis or in amounts more than the label directions. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you start taking these medications with other medicines, or taking them if you have any medical problems.

If OTC painkillers aren’t enough to resolve your pain, you may want to talk to your doctor about alternate methods like essential oils or prescription painkillers.

3. Wear a Neck Brace

If your doctor recommends it, consider using a neck brace or collar to add support to your neck. While these things aren’t recommended for long-term use, they can be fantastic for short-term support and healing. If you do use a neck brace, be sure to talk to your doctor about finding one that fits and will best support your neck muscles.

4. Use Other Treatments

Ultrasound technology, massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care are all valid additional treatments for whiplash-related neck pain. Leave no stone unturned when it comes to your healing.

Talk to your family and friends about the things that have worked for their neck pain, and consult with your doctor about complementary treatments that could help you be more comfortable. Anything you feel compelled to explore could be another avenue on the road to your healing.

5. Give Yourself Time

While whiplash is commonly written off as a “Throw away” condition that doesn’t truly impede motion or life, it’s important to give yourself time to heal adequately after such an event.

Talk to your doctor about how long you should wait before you resume normal activity, and be sure not to rush back into things before you’re ready. Doing so will only delay your healing and make it harder to get back to normal.

How Long Whiplash Takes to Heal

Whiplash requires some recovery time. How long you need to give it depends deeply on how serious the whiplash is. While most cases will resolve on their own within a few days, other neck strains can take weeks or months to heal. No matter what you do, remember that everyone heals at a different rate.

Once the initial pain and discomfort associated with neck strain are gone, your doctor will likely ask you to begin a rehabilitation program. This rehab program will serve a few purposes. The first is that it will make your neck muscles stronger and more flexible, which makes them less susceptible to injury down the road. Secondarily, the rehabilitation program will speed your recovery along and help reduce the odds of straining your neck again.

While there is no “one size fits all” rule regarding how long it takes to heal from whiplash, starting with gentle stretching exercises is a great option. This helps your muscles break up tension and gets them ready to become stronger.

When you start to feel good again, remember that it’s in your best interest not to rush things. This is especially true if you play contact sports or participate in other high-impact activities. No matter how good you feel, you shouldn’t return to your normal levels of activity until the following statements are true:

  • You can turn your head to look over both shoulders without pain or stiffness
  • You can roll your head forward or backward (completely) without any stiffness or pain  
  • You can roll your neck side to side without stiffness or pain

Remember: while it can be tempting to push yourself before you’re ready, doing so will place you at increased risk of neck pain and chronic injury, which isn’t something anyone wants!

How Chiropractic Care can Help

If you’ve been suffering from the pain and discomfort caused by whiplash, there is hope. Visiting a chiropractor can go a long way toward relieving some of the pain and stiffness in your neck, and helping you get back on the road to wellness.

Additionally, a chiropractor may be able to help you strengthen the muscles and ligaments in your neck that were affected by the whiplash. This can help you maintain your health and wellbeing in the years to come, and ensure you don’t undergo the same type of injury in the future. What’s more, good chiropractic care is just a great addition to a healthy lifestyle, and will have far-reaching impacts throughout your life!

If you’ve recently suffered an accident and are ready to get on the road to healing, contact our team today. Our chiropractor and assistants are happy to answer any questions you may have and will work with you to establish a health plan that addresses your concerns and helps restore mobility, strength, and comfort to your life.