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Whiplash in Children: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

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

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

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If the doctor recommends a neck collar, make sure that your child wears it exactly as directed.
  • You can try using heat or ice to see if it helps.
    • Try using a hot water bottle for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. Keep a cloth between the hot water bottle and your child's skin. Try a warm shower in place of one session with the hot water bottle.
    • You can also try an ice pack on your child's neck for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Help your child to not do anything that makes the pain worse. Have him or her take it easy for a couple of days. Your child can do usual activities if they do not hurt his or her neck or put it at risk for more stress or injury. Make sure that your child avoids lifting, sports, or other activities that might strain the neck.
  • Have your child try sleeping on a special neck pillow. Place it under the neck, not under the head. Placing a tightly rolled-up towel under the neck while your child sleeps will also work. If your child uses a neck pillow or rolled towel, do not let him or her use another pillow at the same time.
  • When your child's neck pain is gone, have him or her do exercises to stretch the 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 your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child is unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

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

  • Your child has new or worse symptoms in his or her arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tinging.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • Your child loses bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.