Ben Roethlisberger and Madonna understand the pain.
As the American football quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger experienced the sensation in the 2014 season finale. Despite suffering from it after a hard sack late in the game, Roethlisberger didn’t miss a play in his team’s loss to the rival Baltimore Ravens.
Madonna experienced it, too, during a performance at the Brit awards as her cape malfunctioned, causing the incident. But the pop star didn’t falter, finishing the performance before seeking medical attention.
What, exactly, is the injury both stars fell victim to in recent years? The injury is called whiplash, one of the most common injuries in the world.
What Whiplash Is And The Healing Process
What exactly is whiplash and how do individuals know if they are suffering from it? Whiplash is when the neck is strained from an individual’s jerking either forward, backwards or sideways. Symptoms of the injury-related illness include pain, decreased range of motion and tightness of the neck, especially when the head is rocked from side to side or forwards and backwards. While it’s commonly associated with car accidents and whiplash claims (leading to the UK being dubbed the “whiplash capital of Europe”), any impact or blow that causes the head to suddenly stretch or tear muscles and tendons in the neck can be the cause.
Despite how common whiplash is, an untold number of cases go untreated each year. The long-term health effects of untreated whiplash can be severe, including:
- disc herniation
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- chronic vertigo
- chronic headaches
- several other possible complications
Recovery time for diagnosed whiplash can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to fully cure. But what can be expected during the recovery? The following is a comprehensive step-by-step guide for individuals who suspect they may have whiplash to cure the injury.
Step 1: Seek Medical Treatment
Regardless of the severity of the injury, seeking medical treatment is an important first step. Minor cases of whiplash can be treated with over-the-counter drugs and in-home therapy. Whiplash can take days or weeks after the initial trauma to be recognized, meaning the primary injury has worsened.
More severe cases of whiplash require more medical treatment. The doctor may recommend physical therapy and refer the individual to physiotherapist or chiropractor. There is a distinct difference between the two occupations as chiropractors are specialists that require frequent return visits to their office for therapeutic treatment. Physiotherapists, on the other hand, treat a wider range of injuries while encouraging individuals to be independent in their exercise for therapeutic treatment.
Some instances of whiplash may require the individual to wear a neck brace for a short designated period. The neck brace or collar is intended to relieve pressure and stress on the individual’s muscles during the recovery process. Neck braces are not intended for long-term usage, however, as the collar can hinder recovery by not using the individual’s neck muscles.
Step 2: Reduce Inflammation And Follow Medical Advice
After receiving a diagnosis and treatment recommendations, reducing inflammation and swelling caused by whiplash is the next step to recovering from the injury. The most common treatment for reducing inflammation is a combination of ice and heat therapy at the base of the neck. After applying a cold substance to the injury for the first 2-3 days, doctors will recommend switching to a moist heat application that will significantly ease inflammation.
In addition to this form of therapy, pain medication is often recommended. Depending upon the severity of the injury, doctors may recommend taking one of the following courses for treatment:
- Prescription drugs: These are generally associated for pain medication. Because the ice/heat treatment will help to address swelling issues, doctors may elect to write prescriptions to address the pain.
- Over-the-counter medications: This form of treatment is the most-often used for pain medication after suffering whiplash.
- Alternative medicine: This course of action usually involves a combination of nutrients, herbs and vitamins that can also alleviate pain and reduce inflammation for whiplash injuries.
Individuals who do not seek further treatment from physiotherapists or chiropractors will be tasked with completing in-home rehabilitation exercises. These types of exercises will include gentle to vigorous neck muscle stretching. The aim of the exercises is to make neck muscles stronger while returning the ability to move the individual’s neck without pain.
Failure to follow medical advice on treatment and therapy can hinder recovery time or cause further damage to muscles and soft tissue. Skipping physical exercises or rushing the recovery process could worsen the individual’s condition and increase the likelihood of another whiplash injury. Participating in the prescribed rehabilitation exercises reduces the risk of future whiplash cases.
Step 3: Temporarily Reduce Physical Activities
Individuals take for granted how important the neck is to essential daily activity. From supporting the head and jaw to assisting with overall balance, the neck is required for several daily activities. Whiplash makes neck movements more difficult because of the pain associated with these movements. Temporarily suspending the level of physical activity associated with the neck is often prescribed as a means to limit an individual’s pain level.
Although the individual should reduce physical activities short-term, being completely inactive will not cure whiplash. In fact, stopping all physical activities is not recommended as long-term inactivity can cause secondary problems. Individuals who remain active and exercise their neck muscles daily often cope better with the injury than individuals who become inactive.
Step 4: Return to Normal Activities Level
It’s important for individuals suffering from whiplash to resume some everyday activities within 2-3 days of whiplash. In spite of the pain some movements may cause, a certain amount of it is considered healthy. After the injury, the muscles and soft tissues will cause discomfort as the body recovers from whiplash. In this instance, a fair amount of pain is acceptable and should not be a cause for concern by individuals suffering from whiplash.
Again, following a doctor’s recommendation on when to resume all normal activities is important to enjoying a lasting recovery from whiplash. Returning to full activity immediately after a whiplash injury can cause further damage to neck muscles, especially rigorous physical activity associated directly with neck muscles. Easing back into everyday activities only after the neck muscles have recovered will help heal whiplash injuries fully.