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Whiplash - Topic Overview

How is it treated?

Most whiplash improves with home treatment. Things you can do include:

  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine such as acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen. Your doctor may prescribe pain medicines and muscle relaxers to help with continuing or severe pain.
  • Try using a heating pad on a low or medium setting for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. Try a warm shower in place of one session with the heating pad. You can also buy single-use heat wraps that last up to 8 hours. You can also try an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. There is not strong evidence that either heat or ice will help. But you can try them to see if they help.
  • Avoid activities such as lifting and sports that make pain and stiffness worse.
  • Place a special pillow or a tightly rolled-up towel under your neck while you sleep. Do not use your regular pillow at the same time.
  • You can try using a soft foam collar to support your neck for short periods of time. You can probably buy one at a drugstore. Do not wear the collar more than 2 or 3 days unless your doctor tells you to do so.
  • Talk with your doctor about whether physical therapy could help you.
  • Return to your normal daily activities as soon as possible.

It takes up to 3 months for the neck to heal, even though most pain may be gone in less time. More severe whiplash may take longer, but it usually improves within 6 to 12 months.

After your neck pain is gone, do exercises to stretch your neck and back and make them stronger. Your doctor or physical therapist can tell you which exercises are best.

How can you prevent whiplash?

To help prevent whiplash when you drive, always wear your seat belt and adjust your headrest to the proper height.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 19, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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