Whiplash causes pain and stiffness in the neck, and can also affect the shoulders and the back muscles as well. It’s an uncomfortable injury to suffer and requires extra care during the day, but also consideration for keeping the neck supported during sleep. Therefore knowing how to sleep with whiplash is important if you’re to recover as quickly as possible.
We will show you how to do just that, along with the best sleeping positions, tips, a timeline for healing and more, as we walk you through how to sleep with whiplash.
But fIRST, What EXACTlY is Whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury to the muscles and tendons within the neck that happens after the neck is quickly moved from a back to front position, or when it is moving and suddenly stopped short. It can leave pain and discomfort for weeks and even months, with long lasting affects that may still be felt years later. In order for the body to heal and to address the pain that is caused, it is important to get enough sleep at night, and to keep the spine straight during sleep.
When the neck is moving in one direction and then has a sudden stop, or is pushed in the other direction, it jars the muscles and stretches or damages the tendon. While this is most often the result of a car accident, whiplash also occurs during falls or if the head is bumped in some way. It will not occur in all instances, however when it does it will require care to heal and will cause several issues.
Headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, anxiety, dizziness, and loss of memory are all symptoms of whiplash. Additional symptoms include swelling, muscle spasms, a stiff neck that is difficult to turn, and increased tiredness.
It is important to have an assessment by your family doctor if you feel you have whiplash, and they will make sure there is no permanent or severe damage in the area. After a physical examination they may request an x-ray, CT scan, or even an MRI to determine how much damage has been done and the best way to treat it.
Treating Whiplash During the Day To Help Sleep at night
When there has been a serious case of whiplash it may be necessary to immobilize the neck during the day. This might require a neck support that is worn all day to support the head and release the tension on the neck. It will limit the movement of your neck and allow it to heal faster. Discuss with your doctor if you will need to wear it at night as well, and how long it is recommended.
Rest should be increased, and physically demanding tasks must be avoided during the days and weeks after whiplash has occurred. Take breaks from your tasks and allow your muscles to relax, to allow for faster healing. Lifting should be avoided, and it may be difficult to turn your head to the side, making daily tasks like driving more difficult and even dangerous when it is not possible to check for oncoming traffic.
Pain killers can be used to reduce the pain and discomfort both during the day and overnight. If a prescription for pain killers or muscle relaxants is provided it should be taken as directed. A muscle relaxant can help to ease the tension that is held in the muscle after a whiplash injury has occurred, easing the pain and allowing a return to some movement within the neck. As the swelling reduces, movement will improve and the pain will decrease, but it is important to return to regular activities slowly to avoid re-injuring the area and to ensure that healing is complete.
How to Sleep with Whiplash: The importance of Pillows
As sleep is vital to the healing process, and reducing pain is key to sleeping, a supportive pillow that will maintain the alignment of the spine and reduce movement during sleep is an important consideration. An orthopedic pillow is recommended as they are created to hold the natural curve in the spine and will support your neck in a healthy position that will reduce pain and swelling.
Neck pillows are useful as well, as they go around the neck and can be used at night and during the day too as they support the neck and head. These pillows restrict movement and help to reduce swelling and pressure on the neck muscles, supporting the tendons so they can heal without further injury. During sleep a neck pillow can support the neck and keep it from turning or bending in ways that will cause pain and may further injure the area.
When selecting a pillow for sleeping look for one that will offer support for the spine and help keep the body aligned properly. If you are side sleeping it is also recommended to add a pillow between the knees to keep the spine in its natural resting position. This will reduce the stress on the spine and body, and proper alignment will be maintained for the entire spine, decreasing pain for the whole body including the neck.
Correct alignment by using pillows will reduce strain on the joints, reduce headaches, remove tension from the tendons, and allow for the body to rest during sleep. While improving the health of your body this will also improve the quality of sleep with whiplash which can speed up recovery.
How to Sleep with Whiplash: Sleeping Positions
It may be necessary to adapt a sleeping position to improve comfort and sleep after whiplash has occurred. The two most recommended positions are to sleep on your back, or to sleep on your side. All other sleeping positions can cause strain on the neck and increase pain, while slowing the healing process.
Sleeping on your back will offer support to your neck and head, and can be done comfortably with one of many pillows. If a pillow is creating an uncomfortable position for the neck, a rolled towel can be placed beneath the neck instead. This will support it in a comfortable position without straining the muscles, and will keep the back and spine from arching in an uncomfortable position.
Any pillow for back sleeping should be thin where the head rests, as then it will support the natural curve of the spine throughout the neck without straining it upwards. Bigger pillows must be avoided as they will create a curve to the neck that can increase swelling and strain, increasing pain, and ultimately slow the healing process.
Pillows can be used on either side of the body to reduce tossing and turning, which will help to keep the neck still. This is vital for the healing process, and to avoid pain during rest. The more still you can keep your neck and head during sleep the better rest will be, encouraging the muscles and tendons to heal faster.
For side sleeping it is recommended that a pillow be added between your knees. This will offer support for the top leg, reducing the pressure on the knee joints, and maintain alignment that will support your hips and reduce pain through the hips, legs, knees, and lower back. As the spine and body then remain in alignment there will be reduced pain across the entire body and the muscles will be able to heal faster. To correct the injuries from whiplash it is necessary to support the entire spine and the health of the muscles that surround the spine.
If laying down is painful or you are unable to rest while laying down, you can sleep sitting up. For this to be comfortable a neck pillow or foam collar can be used to support the head. Select a chair that supports the hips, keeps the back supported, and is soft enough for a comfortable rest. A recliner is ideal as your back can be adjusted to a comfortable position, angling enough to ensure that you will not fall forward or to the side, while still being elevated in a way that keeps the head elevated and supported.
If you’re worried about how to sleep with whiplash then getting the correct pillows and maintaining the right sleeping positions are crucial to your overall recovery.
Other Ways to Support Healing Whiplash
During the day it is important to continue stretching. Taking breaks throughout the day to stretch your muscles will help to reduce the stiffness and keep the ligaments and muscles from tightening and becoming more painful. Part of whiplash is stiffness, and when muscles are stiff and swelling, they are unable to rest in their correct position, putting pressure on nerves and upon the spine itself.
Stretching will reduce stiffness, improve mobility, reduce swelling, and improve blood flow. Increased blood flow will bring the vitamins and nutrients to muscles which they require to complete the healing process, and will speed healing. This is a necessary part of healing and helps the neck to return to its natural range of motion.
Physical therapy is often recommended after many injuries, including whiplash. Physical therapists are well trained in movements that will ease the swelling and pain while improving range of motion. They offer a safe space to stretch and move the muscles, may employee TENS systems, heat, ice, and more, to slowly increase the work done by the muscles until they have returned to a full range of motion and the pain has stopped.
You can use ice on the area for up to 20 minutes at a time, a few times a day, to ease the swelling and reduce pressure in the area. Where the muscles are stiff but no swelling is present, heat can be used to relax the muscles and relieve the tension. These methods will help to improve comfort, especially before going to sleep for the night, and will provide relief from the pain.
While the pain and dizzy symptoms of whiplash may make it harder to move throughout the day, it is important that some activity be retained even if it is just walking throughout your home. Movement is necessary to maintain circulation throughout the body, and circulation boosts healing, as well as moving the muscles to reduce tension, stiffness, and pain.
How Long will Whiplash Last?
Slight whiplash can be uncomfortable for a few hours or a few days, but is unlikely to last longer than a week or two. Stronger occurrences of whiplash can last for weeks or months, and be slower to heal. Extreme cases of whiplash may last for months or even years, while occasionally it can result in permanent damage. X-rays and physical exams can show the extent of the damage, but it can be hard to determine until the swelling has reduced which then allows for a clearer picture of what is occurring.
During the first days after whiplash the symptoms will be at their worst, though it can take a few hours for symptoms to begin. As the days pass and treatment continues the symptoms will subside until a return to normal is achieved. Symptoms may return if the head is turned too quickly, if there is a new strain that occurs, or a bad night of sleep strains the neck muscles.
Even when symptoms are clearing it is important to maintain care in movement and to sleep with the neck supported, or symptoms can recur. Using the above methods we show, and following doctors guidance to treat whiplash, are key to reducing the symptoms over the long term. It may be necessary to avoid driving and other activities for days, or weeks, after the injury has occurred.
If the injury is severe enough to become permanent it will be necessary to continue using orthopedic or other supportive pillows, treat the spine alignment, and use stretching and physiotherapy for the foreseeable future. Ongoing treatment may be required for years, or become a permanent way to manage the injury. Massage and chiropractor appointments may be useful for ongoing treatment after the initial healing has completed, and can reduce pain going forward. A muscle relaxant can be used on days that the muscles are tense and symptoms are recurring, while they can be slowed and stopped on days where there is no pain or discomfort in the area.
With no way to surely determine how long whiplash will last, it is necessary to pay attention to the body and how it feels. Find sleeping positions that are comfortable, and ensure that spine health is cared for.