Whiplash: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Whiplash occurs when your head is suddenly forced forward and then snapped backward, as might happen in a car crash or sports injury. This can cause pain and stiffness in your neck. Your head, chest, shoulders, and arms also may hurt.

Most whiplash gets better with home care. Your doctor may advise you to take medicine to relieve pain or relax your muscles. He or she may suggest exercise and physiotherapy to increase flexibility and relieve pain. You can try wearing a neck (cervical) collar to support your neck. For a while you probably will need to avoid lifting and other activities that can strain the neck.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • You can try using a soft foam collar to support your neck for short periods of time. You can buy one at most pharmacies. Do not wear the collar more than 2 or 3 days unless your doctor tells you to.
  • You can try using heat and ice to see if it helps.
    • Try using a heating pad on a low or medium setting for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 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.
  • Do not do anything that makes the pain worse. Take it easy for a couple of days. You can do your usual activities if they do not hurt your neck or put it at risk for more stress or injury. Avoid lifting, sports, or other activities that might strain your neck.
  • Try sleeping on a special neck pillow. Place it under your neck, not under your head. Placing a tightly rolled-up towel under your neck while you sleep will also work. If you use a neck pillow or rolled towel, do not use your regular pillow at the same time.
  • Once your neck pain is gone, do exercises to stretch your neck and back and make them stronger. Your doctor or physiotherapist can tell you which exercises are best.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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