Whiplash: 3 simple steps to rid you of that pain in the neck

Bradley Stoke Physio share three ways you can treat your Whiplash symptoms at home, and say when it's a good time to see a physio.

Whiplash can be extremely painful, but there are three things that you can do to speed up your recovery.

"Depending on your injury, these three things might not help you avoid a trip to the physio entirely, but doing them can help you better decide when best to seek our help," says Bradley Stoke Physio physiotherapist Ali Staveley.

What is whiplash?

Commonly known to be a result of being in a car accident, you can also suffer from whiplash as a result of a sporting accident (diving and rugby are commonly cited), or jolting your neck if you trip or fall.

Whiplash is actually a neck sprain. It happens when your head moves quickly forwards then backwards, like a whip, and can be quite a complicated injury to treat.  However, many people who get whiplash have neck pain and stiffness in their neck and shoulders in the few days after the accident, but find that it doesn't necessarily interfere with their normal activities and they gradually get better.  For some sufferers of the condition whiplash can cause pain for several weeks, sometimes months (this is sometimes known as chronic whiplash).

When you have whiplash you can experience:

  • Neck pain
  • Pain in shoulders and arms
  • Dizziness, headache or blurred vision
  • Weakness in the arms
  • Head feels too heavy for the neck

3 simple steps to help your recovery

Most people with mild to moderate symptoms of whiplash can heal quickly (although 'quickly' might still be a few weeks, sometimes a few months).  It helps to follow these simple steps to help recovery:

1.  Take pain-killers

Paracetamol is fine. Ibuprufen might help with reducing any inflammation. As with all medication, please make sure you read the label and instructions. 

2.  Stay as active as possible

Continue with normal activities as much as possible, and try to gradually increase the range of movement you have in your neck.

3.  Use heat or ice

Place your ice pack (a bag of frozen peas works well) or heat (a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel might do the trick) on the painful spots.

Neck braces and collars aren't recommended: collars are not a good idea and may delay recovery because they restrict normal movement.

When should you see a physio for whiplash treatment?

It is a good time to make an appointment to see Ali or another of the physios (or Hugh, our Osteopath) in our Neck and Back Pain team if:

  • You don't experience any recognisable improvement in the few days following your accident
  • The pain becomes worse
  • You develop other symptoms including numbness or pins and needles in the arm or hand
  • Your pain and stiffness persists for more than a few weeks
  • You simply want reassurance as to the injury you have and how it needs to be treated in order to get better

It's a good idea to seek help earlier rather than later as treatment from a physio or osteopath can get you on the road to recovery quicker.  Early treatment can help get rid of the pain faster and make sure you strengthen your muscles, tendons and joints in the correct way so the pain stays away.  It's interesting that your body can adapt the way it moves to avoid feeling pain so other muscles and joints end up working harder to compensate. This can actually cause further pain and tiredness and stop you moving as well so it can become a vicious circle if you don't treat your original injury in the first place!

Any one of our Neck and Back Pain team physios, or our Osteopath, will be able to: 

  • Assess your injury
  • Provide advice as to how best to manage your symptoms and injury at home and work
  • Treatment that will help you to restore your range of movement and reduce your pain
  • Prevent your pain coming back

You might also be interested to find out how Pilates can help you recover from whiplash. Speak to either Ali Staveley or Kath Stephenson, both physios and certified Pilates Instructors who run Bradley Stoke Physio's Pilates courses and 1-to-1 Pilates sessions