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Is Ice or Heat Better for Treating Whiplash?

Jun 3, 2021

Is Ice or Heat Better for Treating WhiplashWhiplash is an injury that can cause significant pain and discomfort in your head, neck, and back. If you’ve been in a car accident, especially if you were rear-ended, then your doctor will very likely want to assess you for whiplash because it is such a common injury. While whiplash is common, it is also a complex injury because symptoms don’t always show up right away which makes it even more important to start treating whiplash as soon as it is diagnosed. Any injury that affects your head and spine should be taken very seriously and treated with care. That’s why you want to make sure you know what options for treating whiplash are best for you!

Symptoms of Whiplash

When you get rear-ended or are involved in another type of car wreck, it can be such a stressful experience that your body likely activated its adrenaline response to the situation. Adrenaline coursing through your veins plus the shock and stress of a car accident can actually mask your symptoms at first, meaning you might not recognize you are uncomfortable or in pain right away. It can actually take hours and even days for you to experience all your symptoms of whiplash because it is a musculoskeletal injury that impacts multiple parts of the body.

Here are the top symptoms of whiplash that you should look out for: headaches and neck pain in the hours after the accident. At first, your neck may seem a bit sore and you might be tempted to think it will go away on its own. However, neck pain after a car accident can be the first sign of a whiplash injury. As the injury sets in, your neck muscles might start to feel tender and even warm to the touch. You may even feel like your neck and shoulders are stiff and have difficulty turning your head from side to side without pain. Whiplash can also cause misalignments in your spine that can disrupt healthy functioning and even cause neurological symptoms like tingling and numbness.

Why Ice and Heat Are Helpful Remedies

In general, ice and heat are common at-home remedies for many musculoskeletal injuries because they both work to relieve your pain. Applying ice or a cold compress to sore muscles will temporarily restrict blood flow by shrinking the blood vessels in the area. This helps to reduce swelling and inflammation in the area. The cold sensation of applying ice is also a natural, if temporary, pain reliever. Applying heat to sore muscles does the opposite of ice in that it actually encourages healthy blood flow to the area. It is best to alternate ice and heat or to apply heat only after addressing swelling and inflammation first. The warm sensation of applying heat is soothing for sore, aching muscles and also helps your body to naturally relax.

Ice vs. Heat for Whiplash

Whiplash can cause muscle soreness and strain in your back and neck, which means applying ice and heat properly can be very beneficial for your pain relief. Because swelling is common with whiplash, you should start with applying ice or a cold compress to your neck muscles and areas where you suspect inflammation. The cold compress against your neck and upper back can help provide you with instant, if temporary, relief from the pain while the swelling slowly reduces. After you use cold therapy on the area, you may alternate with heat therapy to continue to soothe those aching muscles. A car accident injury like whiplash can cause pain that makes you want to avoid certain movements, which can leave you with stiff, sore muscles from lack of use. Applying heat to these stiff, sore muscles can help them loosen up and gently restore the range of motion in your neck.

Treating Whiplash

Whiplash can lead to chronic pain in your neck or back if it isn’t treated promptly, so it is important to visit a car accident doctor after you’ve been in a wreck. In addition to recommending ice and heat at home, your doctor may also want to develop a more comprehensive treatment plan for your whiplash injury and symptoms. At AICA Orthopedics, our team of car accident doctors includes orthopedic doctors, chiropractors, neurologists, surgeons, and physical therapists who work together to provide you with individualized care so you can fully heal and recover from whiplash.


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