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Emergency Department Discharge Instructions

Whiplash/neck sprain

Category

Sprains

Emergency Care Discharge Instructions

Instruction summary

A whiplash injury happens when the small muscles in your neck tear, often after your head suddenly jerks forward and back. This usually happens in the case of a sudden deceleration (slowing down) of a car, when your neck muscles are tensed and your head moves forward rapidly.

The treatment for whiplash is a cold compress (e.g. ice or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a thin towel) and pain medication. Apply ice for ≈5-10 minutes at a time, then allow the skin to return to normal temperature before applying the ice again (this prevents frostbite).

In addition, it may be helpful to take an anti-inflammatory over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen (which is the same thing as Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (same thing as Aleve). If you are over age 70 or have kidney problems, check with your doctor before taking these medications. The pain is usually worst on day two or three, after which it usually improves gradually.

If you have been prescribed a strong medication like Tylenol #3 or Percocet, only use it if your pain is not controlled by anti-inflammatory medications. If you are taking one of the strong medications, do not drive or operate heavy machinery, as these medications can make you sleepy. Tylenol #3 and Percocet usually also cause constipation, so take an over-the-counter medicine for constipation, such as Metamucil or Docusate, at the same time as taking these medications.

You should feel better in 1-2 weeks. If not, follow up with your family doctor to try other therapies like physiotherapy.

Reasons to return to the ER
  1. New weakness or numbness in one or both arms
  2. Fever (≥38.0 °C or 100.4 °F)