Whiplash is a painful injury that can seriously interfere with your sleep.
The pain of whiplash often feels worse at night, as you struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position that doesn’t strain your spine, neck, and head. You may feel tired, or even exhausted, but try as you might, sleep will not come.
But before you resign yourself to weeks of sleepless nights, read this post. There are certain tried and tested sleeping positions that can dramatically improve your nighttime whiplash pain, help you fall asleep quicker, and stay asleep for longer.
Below, we’ll share the best sleeping positions for whiplash pain. Plus, we’ll look at some of the ways you can treat whiplash during the day so that you can recover from your injury as quickly as possible.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a spinal injury resulting from a swift, sudden, and forceful movement of the head.
Most cases of whiplash are caused by car accidents, particularly rear-end collisions. That being said, there are plenty of other activities that carry a risk of whiplash, including skiing, snowboarding, surfing, gymnastics, and horse riding.
The primary symptoms of whiplash include:
- A stiff neck with pain that intensifies with movement
- Reduced range of motion in the neck
- Pain, sensitivity, or tenderness in the upper back, shoulders, and arms
- Headaches that radiate from the base of the skull
- Numbness or tingling in the arms
Often, the signs of whiplash will appear 1 to 2 days after a car accident or other trauma to the head and neck.
If you suspect that you have whiplash, it’s important to contact your doctor straight away so they can assess your injury and prescribe the right treatment program for you.
How Long Does Whiplash Last?
Whiplash injuries can range from mild to serve. Mild cases of whiplash usually subside within 1 to 2 weeks, however, more severe injuries can present symptoms for several months, and neck pain can reoccur for years after the accident.
The length of time your whiplash will take to heal depends on the extent of the damage to your nervous system.
How to Treat Whiplash?
If you’re recovering from whiplash, you might find that falling asleep and staying asleep is a struggle.
There are several things you can do to feel more comfortable at night, but taking steps to heal your injury during the day is paramount.
Here are some top doctor-recommended tips that can speed up your recovery.
Rest is the most crucial component to recovery after whiplash. Remain on bedrest for the first 24 hours after an injury, taking particular care not to turn or twist your neck.
After 24 hours, you can slowly begin to resume light activities, while taking extra precautions to protect your head and neck from further damage. However, it’s important to listen to your body. If the pain continues without improvement, remain on bedrest and contact your doctor or healthcare provider.
In the first 24 to 48 hours after your injury, apply an ice pack to the base of your head, your neck, and your shoulder region. This will help to reduce inflammation and swelling and relieve some of the pain. Do this as often as needed.
Be sure to wrap the ice pack in a towel before applying it to the skin to avoid an ice burn.
After treating your whiplash injury with ice, any swelling should start to subside. Once this happens, you can begin to incorporate heat therapy into your recovery routine.
Heat encourages blood flow to the injured area, helping to soothe your aching muscles and regain the range of motion in your head and neck.
Microwavable heat pads provide beneficial moist heat to your injury, but you can also create a DIY version by emptying dried rice into a clean sock, tying up the end, and microwaving it at short intervals until it’s warm, but not too hot, to the touch.
Alternatively, you can purchase self-adhesive heat patches from any pharmacy and apply these to the affected area.
4. Avoid Heavy Lifting
Do not lift any heavy objects while you still have pain. This can cause a delay in your recovery and lead to further damage to the muscles and nerves in your neck.
5. Avoid Strenuous Exercise
If the pain from whiplash is gradually beginning to subside, it can be tempting to get back in the gym or go for your daily run. But take extra care when engaging in any kind of vigorous exercise while you are still in the recovery phase. Avoid activities that involve twisting, reaching, or lifting heavy weights until you are sure the injury has healed.
6. Keep Moving
After the initial 24 to 48 hours after your injury, try to gradually increase the range of motion in your neck. Remaining still in the same position for too long can cause additional stiffness and make the recovery process longer.
Change positions frequently and practice slow and gentle movements of the neck, for example, nodding up and down, or turning your head from side to side. But proceed with caution; do not move your head past your comfortable range of motion, and if you feel pain, stop.
7. Take Pain Relief Medication if Necessary
If the pain is interfering with your daily life, over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, can help to relieve your discomfort and also reduce inflammation and swelling. Check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medication to make sure it’s suitable for you.
If you find that over-the-counter meds don’t provide relief, you may want to talk to your physician about possible prescription strength pain relief to keep you comfortable and aid sleep while your body recovers. Bear in mind that these kinds of medicines can be very addictive. Only take them under medical supervision, monitor your intake closely, and take them only when absolutely necessary.
8. Ask Your Doctor About Medical Interventions for Whiplash
Alongside pain relief medication, your doctor may also prescribe certain treatments that can ease the symptoms of whiplash and help you recover. These include:
- Lidocaine injections to relieve severe pain
- Physical therapy to help regain your range of motion and build your strength back up.
- A neck brace that you can wear during the day. These braces, typically made of foam, were once a popular treatment for whiplash. These days, however, they are used less commonly, as restricting movement can cause stiffness in the neck. That being said, in certain cases, your doctor may prescribe one for you.
How to Sleep with Whiplash?
Whiplash can cause pain and discomfort 24 hours a day, but many people find that the pain gets worse during the night. This is due to the extra strain placed on your neck and spine while lying down. Plus, while you sleep, your muscles are soft and relaxed, and they don’t support your head in the same way they do while you are awake. This can lead to extra pressure being placed on the nerves, causing additional pain.
But thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce the pain of whiplash during the night, including:
1. Sleeping With a Specially Designed Neck Pillow
If you have whiplash, an ergonomically designed neck pillow can make the difference between a good night’s sleep and a bad night’s sleep. Plus, it can significantly speed up your recovery if used on a regular basis.
Pillows that are contoured to your natural shape help to keep your head and neck aligned and in a neutral position. This alleviates pressure on your spine and keeps you safe throughout the night. This is especially useful if you’re prone to turning over in your sleep.
2. Try Foam Rolling
Many whiplash patients swear by foam rollers to help loosen up sore and stiff muscles, thereby reducing pain during the night. By using a simple rolling-out technique before you go to bed, you may find that you can fall asleep much quicker, and stay asleep for longer.
3. Use a Warm Compress
Both ice and heat can be beneficial any time of the day, but the soothing warmth of a heating pad or heat patch just before you drift off can provide relief to aching muscles and reduce pain, therefore helping you to sleep better. The heat also prevents your muscles from stiffening during the night. For the most benefit, apply a heating pad or heat patch that can stay warm for several hours, to provide continuing relief.
4. Invest in a Spine Support Mattress
If you have a mild case of whiplash, the interventions above should be enough to reduce your pain and help you get a better, safer night’s sleep. But those with a more severe injury and a longer road to recovery might want to consider investing in an ergonomically designed spine support mattress.
Whiplash pain is exacerbated when the spine is misaligned, and this is most likely to occur while laying down in bed at night. But a spinal support mattress is designed to adjust to your sleeping position and keep you safely supported.
There are multiple different types available, but the most popular are made of memory foam. And they’re not just good for whiplash; they also provide support for all kinds of injuries, aches, and pains. Plus, they’re extremely comfortable too.
The Top 3 Best Sleeping Positions for Whiplash
So, now that we know what whiplash is, and how it’s treated, let’s take a look at the best sleeping positions to aid recovery and get the most restful night’s sleep possible.
Choosing the correct sleeping position is important because a misaligned head, neck, and spine can create further problems down the line. It can also significantly set back your recovery time. However, a well-chosen sleeping position will have the opposite effect, relieving tension, reducing pain, and helping you heal faster.
So, here are three doctor-recommended sleeping positions for people with whiplash.
1. The Neutral Spine Position
Maintaining a neutral spine position is the safest way to sleep with a whiplash injury to prevent further damage to your neck. The best way to achieve a neutral spine is to lie flat on your back with a supportive neck pillow between your head and shoulders. The pillow should contour to the curve of your neck to provide the greatest support.
2. The Fetal Position
If you’re usually someone who prefers sleeping on their side, the fetal position could be the best choice for you. By lying on your side with your knees tucked up towards your chest, you create more space between the vertebrae while still maintaining a neutral spine position. Many people find this helps to relieve neck pain and dissolve tension that may have built up during the day.
To increase your comfort level and align your hips, you can also try placing a soft pillow between your knees.
3. The Reclined Position
If sleeping flat on your back or curled into a fetal position on your side is uncomfortable, another option is to sleep at a 45-degree angle. If you have a comfortable recliner, this is the ideal temporary solution while your whiplash is in the early healing stages. If you don’t own a recliner, you can mimic the same posture by propping yourself up in bed with several firm and supportive pillows.
For additional stability and support, place a pillow underneath your knees to take the pressure off the base of your spine.
Getting a good night’s sleep after a whiplash injury isn’t always easy, and you may find yourself struggling to drift off. But by taking the necessary steps to help your body heal and choosing the right sleeping position, you can increase your chances of falling asleep soundly and getting the rest you need.
If you suspect you have whiplash after an accident or injury, be sure to visit your doctor who can diagnose the problem and help you find a treatment plan that works for you.