Whiplash is the source of a lot of pain and a lot of lawsuits. But what causes whiplash, exactly? Well, think about what happens to your body during a car crash. The seatbelt restrains your torso, but your head and neck continue moving towards the windshield at a violent speed, and then jerk back at the moment of impact. To prevent catastrophic injury, the muscles in the neck and trapezius use everything they’ve got to slow and stabilize your head and neck. This can save your life, but it also comes at a cost — 24-48 hours later, your neck and shoulders will be almost unbearably stiff. Does that timeline seem familiar? It should, because whiplash is usually just a severe case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
However, before you do any of these exercises, get a doctor to check you out first. While most whiplash is just a nasty case of DOMS, it’s also possible that you’ve broken a bone or suffered from some other traumatic injury, especially if the crash was bad.
Then, once your doctor has given you the all clear, here’s what you can do:
1. Apply a mix of ice and heat
Your neck and shoulders are just like any other sore and stiff muscle after a hard workout. But instead of waiting for them to get sore in 1-2 days, start applying a mix of ice and heat as soon as you get home.
2. Move gently
A neck brace may win you sympathy, but it’s not going to make you feel better. In fact, immobilizing the head and neck will only intensify the stiffness and soreness. Instead, what you want to do is keep moving. Start by slowly and gently moving your head up, down, side-to-side, and around. Do this for five minutes, and repeat it throughout the day to help prevent stiffness from settling in.
3. Activate the muscles with isometric movements
When your head and neck are this sore, it’s easy for the muscles to fall asleep, but that just leads to more stiffness and more pain. To combat this, activate the muscles withthese isometric contractions:
A) Put your hand on the back of your head, and then use your head to push back against your hand so that you’re contracting the muscles at the back of your neck. Hold for 30 seconds.
B) Put your hand on your right cheek, and then use your head to push back against your hand so that you’re contracting the muscles at the right side of your neck. Hold for 30 seconds.
C) Put your hand on your left cheek, and then use your head to push back against your hand so that you’re contracting the muscles at the left side of your neck. Hold for 30 seconds.
D) Put your hand on your forehead, andthen use your head to push back against your hand so that you’re contracting the muscles at the front of your neck. Hold for 30 seconds.
While you can’t prevent all the pain and stiffness, you can prevent a lot of it. And instead of it taking you 2-3 months to recover, it’ll only take 7-10 days.