Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The goals of treatment are to control pain, restore normal range of motion in your neck and return you to normal activities. The course of treatment will vary depending on the severity of your whiplash injury. For some people, over-the-counter drugs and at-home care may be sufficient. Other people may need prescription drugs, specialized pain treatment or physical therapy.

Pain management

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments to lessen pain:

  • Rest. Rest may be helpful during the first 24 hours after injury, but prolonged bed rest may delay recovery.
  • Ice or heat. Apply ice or heat to the neck for 15 minutes up to six times a day.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), often can control mild to moderate whiplash pain.
  • Prescription painkillers. People with more-severe pain may benefit from short-term treatment with prescription pain relievers.
  • Muscle relaxants. These drugs may control pain and help restore normal sleep if pain prevents you from sleeping well at night.
  • Injections. An injection of lidocaine (Xylocaine) — a numbing medicine — into painful muscle areas may be used to decrease pain so that you can do physical therapy.

Exercise

Your doctor will likely prescribe a series of stretching and movement exercises to help restore range of motion in your neck and enable you to resume normal activities. You may be advised to apply moist heat or to take a warm shower before exercise. Exercises may include:

  • Rotating your neck in both directions
  • Tilting your head side to side
  • Bending your neck toward your chest
  • Rolling your shoulders

Physical therapy

Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist if you need help learning range-of-motion exercises or if you experience chronic pain from whiplash. The therapist may introduce additional exercises to strengthen muscles, improve posture and restore normal movement. The goal is to create a customized routine that eventually you can do independently at home.

Foam collars

Soft foam cervical collars were once commonly used for whiplash injuries to hold the neck and head still. However, studies have shown that immobilizing the neck for long periods of time can decrease muscle strength and impair recovery.

Recommendations for the use of a collar vary, but use is generally restricted to no more than three hours at a time during the first week after injury, when you are experiencing more-severe pain. Your doctor may also recommend use of a collar if it helps you sleep at night.

Jan. 20, 2015

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