Treatment for whiplash depends on the individual injury but in the vast majority of cases it simply involves treating the pain and inflammation while the injury heals itself.
Where whiplash injury is suspected it is helpful to apply ice to the affected area as soon as possible for 10-30 minutes at a time to minimise and relieve any associated inflamation. One of the best ways of doing this with neck injuries is to use a bag of frozen peas or sweetcorn as they quickly mould to the affected area of the body making them more effective. Ice packs, whether purpose-built or improvised, should not be applied directly to the skin but should be wrapped in a towel or similar (a pillowcase is also suitable) before being applied to the affected area.
In simple cases with no complications, your doctor will most likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug to assist with reducing inflamation and alleviating the pain associated with the soft-tissue injuries that you have sustained. It is also likely that you will be told to perform Range of Movement (ROM) exercises to quicken your recovery. These may begin immediately or after a short period of rest.
You may be advised to wear a collar or neck-brace for a short time to restrict your neck movement as this can prevent you from exacerbating your injury through aggravating the damaged tissues. That said, some studies suggest that restricting movement for too long can in fact lengthen the recovery time rather than shorten it, and increase the time it takes for you to regain a full range of movement, and therefore while it used to be almost standard practice to suggest that a whiplash patient wore a neck-brace, the opposite is largely true.
Good posture will aid your recovery and is advised in any case – it is best to walk with your back straight and to ensure that you sit properly, and that your pillow(s) give your head and neck adequate support while you sleep.
You may find that visiting an osteopath or a chiropractor or undergoing physiotherapy or even a massage can aid you in your recovery. You should always ensure that if you approach anyone for complimentary therapy they are fully trained and qualified and a recognised member of their respective trade body – failure to do so could result in you receiving treatment or advice that could worsen your condition and slow your recovery.
Normally you will regain full mobility in your neck once the inflammation and associated pain have subsided and it is wise to gradually attempt to increase your range of movement as it becomes less painful and to resume normal activities as soon as possible.
The good news is that the vast majority of whiplash injuries whether cervical flexion-extension injuries, cervical hyperflexion injuries or cervical hyperextension injuries heal with no further intervention and within a matter of days or weeks. In cases where fractures or dislocations have been sustained the situation is more complex and a full recovery can take months or even years. More serious cases carry a greater risk or permanent damage, although serious long-term disability risk is very small.
Further information on WADs and treatment according to the Quebec Task Force report can be found in the Whiplash Associated Disorders section.
It should also be noted that the risk of vehicular whiplash injury can be greatly lessened in just a couple of seconds – more information can be found in the section entitled Whiplash Prevention.