More than half of the 3 million or so new whiplash cases that occur in the United States each year involve chronic pain, meaning discomfort lingers for 4-6 months or more. While often associated with car accidents, whiplash injuries can happen as a result of any sudden backward-forward motion affecting the neck area, which could include a hard impact while playing sports or any action that causes sudden, forceful neck movements. If whiplash-related symptoms are mild or minor, the trusted Santa Monica spine surgeons at The Spine Institute suggest trying one or more of the following home remedies.
1. Applying Ice
Cold therapy works by slowing circulation in the affected area, which reduces inflammation and minimizes injury-related muscle spasms. Cold can be applied to the area where soreness or pain is felt with an ice pack or cooling gel. Cold applications should be limited to 15-20 minutes at a time every few hours. This remedy is recommended during the first 24-48 hours after sustaining a whiplash injury.
Another option is to alternate between ice and heat applications. If you do this, start with ice first to bring the swelling down, then apply heat to promote tissue healing.
Reminder: Heat and/or ice should never be applied directly to your skin.
2. Over-the-Counter Anti-Inflammatory Medications
As the name implies, anti-inflammatory drugs reduce swelling around tissues, joints, and vertebrae in the neck. Taking over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen after a whiplash injury may also prevent inflammation by giving tissues enough time to start healing.
Reminder: Follow the recommended dosage. If OTC NSAIDs aren’t helping, talk to your doctor about prescription versions.
3. Rest/Activity Modification
Your neck needs time to heal following whiplash, even if discomfort is mild. Avoid overstressing already strained neck muscles by resting for a few days, and modify your activities as much as possible to avoid direct pressure on your neck and upper back. For instance, you might:
- Use a neck support cushion while working or driving
- Sleep on a lower pillow to retain proper head-neck-upper spine alignment
- Modify your workout or exercise routine to exclude anything that directly puts pressure on your neck
Reminder: Too much rest can weaken neck-supporting muscles and make pain worse. If rest or activity modification isn’t helping after 2-3 days, see your doctor.
4. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is a home remedy in the sense that therapists often recommend appropriate neck exercises or stretches that can be done in the comfort of your own home between sessions. If you’re going to Google “neck stretches or exercises” on your own, make sure you opt for ones specifically for people with neck injuries so you don’t do more harm than good.
Even if you do experience relief from symptoms such as neck stiffness and shoulder or upper back tenderness with self-treatment, it’s still important to get an accurate diagnosis. Whiplash symptoms can sometimes develop later, come back if tissues are irritated again, or change over time, especially if the actual source of the pain isn’t being treated. At the very least, having various tests done can rule out structural damage to your neck or its discs and joints.
If you’re experiencing severe neck or back pain, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of the expert surgeons at The Spine Institute. After an in-person evaluation, Dr. Hyun Bae or one of the other surgeons on his team can tell you if you need a form of minimally invasive surgery such as fusion surgery or a kyphoplasty procedure. Santa Monica patients who are seeking relief for their pain should call 310-828-7757 today.