First Aid for Whiplash

First Aid for WhiplashWhiplash refers to a neck injury which involves damage to any structure within a person’s neck. Common whiplash injuries include neck strain, neck sprain, neck contusion and neck fracture. Neck injury is typically caused due to motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries and falls. Neck injuries that involve damage to the soft tissues within the neck include lacerations, wounds, puncture wounds and abrasions.

A person with a whiplash such as a neck fracture may suffer from neck pain, neck swelling, neck tenderness, neck stiffness and neck muscle spasm. Severe injuries to the neck may cause leg weakness, arm weakness, leg numbness, arm numbness, loss of bowel control, loss of bladder control and difficulty walking.

If you report your condition to your doctor, he may treat whiplash with cold compresses, narcotic pain medication, NSAIDs for pain, a cervical collar and muscle relaxants. Severe neck injuries, especially those involving the spinal cord may require immediate surgery and treatment with corticosteroids.

Risk factors of whiplash

Risk factors associated with whiplash include:

  • Alcohol intoxication
  • Elderly
  • Diving in shallow pools
  • Drunk driving
  • Contact sports
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of whiplash or neck injury include:

  • Moderate to severe neck pain
  • Swelling of the neck
  • Tenderness of the neck – near the spine
  • Neck stiffness
  • Neck muscle spasm

Symptoms of severe whiplash include:

  • Neck laceration
  • Puncture wounds to the neck
  • Severe swelling of the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Limb numbness
  • Tingling of limbs
  • Weakness of the limbs
  • Urinary incontinence – loss of bladder control
  • Bowel incontinence – loss of bowel control
  • Difficulty walking


The doctor may prescribe the following treatment measures for mild neck injury:

  • Rest brace
  • Plenty of rest
  • Avoid strenuous activity or any activity that may cause neck pain or neck discomfort
  • Apply cold compresses frequently – continue applying for 3 days, 2-3 times per day for 20 minutes each
  • Apply warm compresses for 72 hours after whiplash
  • Perform neck stretching exercises
  • Perform neck range of motion exercises
  • Perform neck strengthening exercises as directed by your health care provider
  • The doctor may prescribe massage therapy for the neck and physical therapy for the neck
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication for pain – ibuprofen, naproxen or ketoprufen
  • Take narcotic pain medication for short term use only in case of moderate to severe pain
  • Take muscle relaxants as prescribed by your health care provider
  • Ultrasound therapy may be performed by your doctor as a form of neck injury treatment


In order to prevent whiplash, follow these preventative steps for your own safety:

  • Avoid contact sports if you are prone to injury
  • Avoid driving after drinking
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or consume in moderation – 2 glasses per day for men and 1 for women
  • Always wear seatbelts while driving or travelling in a vehicle
  • Avoid diving in shallow pools of water
  • Perform neck exercises and stretched regularly to strengthen neck muscles
  • Perform warm-up neck stretches before and after exercise


Complications associated with whiplash include:

  • Herniated disk in the neck – slipped disc
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Nerve root entrapment
  • Paraplegia
  • Quadriplegia

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