Whiplash and Neck Pain After Accident? 4 Easy Steps to Recovery
There are around 6 million car accidents every year in the United States and about 3 million people are injured as a result with whiplash being one of the most common injuries. This is not surprising since car accidents thrust the body with massive amounts of force causing the body to collide with other objects, including seatbelts.
While your car’s seat belt may help your body stay secure against the seat, your head is left with little to no protection. For this reason, the neck often takes the most strain and damage in automobile crashes leading to mild to severe neck injuries, including whiplash.
In your neck, there are seven bones in the spinal column, all of which are connected by discs, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. The ligaments and muscles are strong bands of tissue that work like thick rubber bands. Injuries can occur in one or many of these tissue’s when a sudden movement causes the neck to bend to a dangerous position. If you or a loved one has sustained a neck injury after a car or truck accident, here are four steps to that can help you make a speedy recovery:
1. Look for Neck Injury Signs
While some individuals experience pain immediately after an accident, for others, the symptoms can be delayed. A motor vehicle crash can cause large amounts of adrenaline to surge through your body, which can often mask the pain from any injury you have sustained. For this reason, it’s important to monitor yourself and know the signs associated with neck injuries after an accident. Below are the three most common neck injuries caused by automobile accidents:
65% of injuries caused by car accidents involve whiplash. Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth neck movement. Symptoms of whiplash often develop over the first 24 hours after the injury. However, some victims may not notice symptoms until days later. Some symptoms of whiplash include:
- Pain when moving your neck
- Tenderness in the shoulders, upper back, and/or arms
- Neck stiffness
- Decreased range of motion in your neck
The seven bones of your neck are separated by discs filled with a cushioning substance. These discs stabilize your neck and allow it to move properly. When you’re in an accident the extreme force can cause part of the soft interior portion of one or more of your spinal discs to push through the disk’s harder exterior, pinching nerves in the spinal column. Some of the most common symptoms of disc herniation are:
- Neck pain
- Radiating arm pain
- Shoulder pain
- Numbness or tingling in the arm or hand
A muscle strain or sprain can occur simultaneously, but they involve two different parts of the neck. A strain is caused when a tendon stretches too far and tears. Whereas, a sprain occurs when the ligaments that support the neck stretches too far and tears. Technically, whiplash is a sprain/strain. The damage from these injuries can heal over time, but sometimes you may require further medical treatment. Some of the most common symptoms to be aware of are:
- Decreased range of motion and tightness in the neck
- Pain when trying to move your neck from one side to the other and/or from front to back
- Pain or stiffness when moving your head to look over each shoulder
- Tenderness or pain in your neck
- Headaches at the base of the skull that goes towards your forehead.
2. Seek Medical Treatment for Your Neck Pain
If you begin experiencing any of the previously mentioned signs you should seek medical attention immediately. Your treatment plan will most likely depend on the extent of your injury. If you delay in seeking medical treatment, that could cause you additional injury, and an insurance adjuster will likely try to use this delay against you when negotiating your accident claim.
For example, as experienced Charleston, WV car accident lawyers, we sometimes hear auto insurance companies try to argue that the accident victim must not have been seriously injured or they would have sought medical treatment sooner. There are sometimes legitimate reasons for not getting medical treatment immediately after an accident. However, it’s important to know that such delays can negatively impact your auto accident claim.
Below are some of the most common types of treatments doctors prescribe for individuals with neck injuries. In our decades of combined experience as personal injury lawyers, we have learned that some people who suffer from whiplash respond better to one type of treatment, while others might respond better to a completely different type of treatment. For example, chiropractors help some people’s neck pain, while others might respond better to physical therapy, which is considered the gold standard for treating soft tissue injuries.
Over-the-Counter Pain Medications
If you are experiencing mild pain in your neck your doctor may suggest over-the-counter pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), are some of the most common.
If you are experiencing more severe pain due to your neck injury your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication. Pain medicine can aid in relieving pain by acting as a numbing agent to the central nervous system. Each drug’s strength and length of recommended use varies. Along with the benefits, pain medications can offer there are some side effects that come with their use. Pain medication can cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, and sedation or drowsiness. However, there are many preventative measures you can take to stop these side effects from occurring. Some things you can do are:
- Do not take sleeping aids or antidepressants with your pain medication
- Avoiding drinking alcohol
- Increasing fluid intake
- Eating a high fiber diet
- Using a fiber laxative or stool softener to treat constipation
Remember that narcotics can be addictive if used excessively or improperly.
Depending on the severity of your pain your doctor may prescribe you short-term medication to alleviate the pain while your neck heals. Muscle relaxants are commonly used for whiplash and other neck injuries. A muscle relaxant can help your muscles loosen and soothe the pain while your body begins to heal itself. One downfall of this medication is it tends to make users very drowsy.
If your pain persists, your doctor may recommend seeing a physical therapist. Physical therapy can help you feel better, rehabilitate your damaged tissue, and may prevent further injury. Your physical therapist will do multiple different series of stretches and exercises with you to restore your body to a healthy state.
Though surgery is rare for individuals who have suffered a neck injury and would not likely be prescribed for whiplash, it is sometimes needed for certain neck injuries like disc herniation. If you sustain an injury that can’t be healed by any other courses of treatment your doctor may recommend surgery. Some common types of neck surgery include:
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion
- Cervical artificial disc replacement
- Posterior cervical laminectomy
- Posterior cervical foraminotomy
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine in which thin needles are inserted into the body. When using acupuncture in an attempt to alleviate neck pain it can help by:
- Stimulating nerves in the neck to release endorphins and other neurohumoral factors to the brain and spinal cord. This will help change the processing of pain by the brain and spinal cord.
- Reduce inflammation
- Increase local microcirculation to improve muscle stiffness and joint mobility
Massage therapy has been a popular method to alleviate the pain associated with neck injuries. During these treatments, massage therapists use their hands or tools to rhythmically knead, rub, and stroke the specific area. Massage therapy can have many benefits, such as:
- Relieving muscle tension, spasms, inflammation, fluid retention, aches, stiffness, and pain
- Improve circulation
- Increase range of motion and flexibility
- Increase tissue elasticity
Before getting a massage for back pain or neck pain, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to refer you to a licensed or certified massage therapist.
Visiting a chiropractor can be a great choice after you have sustained a neck injury. Chiropractors are trained in hands-on spinal manipulation and other alternative treatments. For your neck injury, a chiropractor will most likely perform a neck adjustment. This is a precise procedure applied to the joints of the neck that can provide many benefits such as:
- Improved mobility of the spine
- Restored range of motion;
- Reduction of pain, soreness, and stiffness.
In addition to performing spinal manipulation, a chiropractor will likely also develop a treatment plan to help you heal further.
While it’s important to not overwork your neck after an injury it’s also equally important to exercise it. Keeping the neck completely still can make matters worse by causing the neck to lock up or not heal properly. Some exercises that you can do at home to help get your neck back to your normal include:
- Rotating your neck in both directions
- Tilting your head side to side
- Bending your neck toward your chest
- Rolling your shoulders
While specific practices can be helpful there are many lesser-known tips that can also aid in alleviating your neck pain. Here are some of the less common at-home treatment options you can do:
- Try sleeping with a rolled-up towel under your neck for relief.
- Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.
- Change the position of your neck often. Don’t stand or sit in one position for too long.
3. How to Take Care of Your Neck Pain at Home
Getting in to see a medical provider for your neck injury can often take time. However, you can use this time that you’re waiting to begin healing now. Below are some of the most used treatments individuals do at home:
Ice Your Neck
Applying ice to your neck injury after an accident can be extremely beneficial. Ice can help control inflammation which causes pain in the injured area. It’s important to remember when you are applying ice to an area on your body you should always be cautious. Try using this method recommended by the American Physical Therapy Association:
- Fill a plastic bag with crushed ice.
- Place a towel around the area of your neck that has the pain.
- Put the homemade ice bag on the towel. Ice for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Take a 40-minute break.
Never apply ice directly to your skin.
Apply Heat to Your Neck
Applying heat to your injured neck can also aid in the healing process of your neck injury. When you apply heat to your neck it penetrates down into the muscles and increases circulation. It’s important to remember the heating product you are using should never be so hot that it burns your skin. The goal is to use a heating product that will maintain a reasonable temperature. For minor pain short amounts of heat therapy are sufficient. For more intense pain keeping the heat on longer is ideal. There are two options you can pursue when doing heat therapy:
- Dry heat: usually refers to heating pads and saunas. This method helps to draw out moisture but is often said to leave the skin dehydrated.
- Moist heat: usually refers to things such as hot baths, steamed towels, or moist heating packs. This method can better aid in the heat’s penetration into the muscles.
Never sleep with an ice or heat pack! Wrap ice or heat in a towel to protect your skin.
Take an Over-the-Counter Medication
Oftentimes doctors will recommend you try an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication. Since these drugs are sold without a prescription you can go to your local pharmacy and begin trying them immediately. Some of the most common types used for neck injury are acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve).
4. Get a Free Case Evaluation from an Experienced West Virginia Personal Injury Attorney
Injuries after an accident can cause you monetary, physical, and mental damages. If you or a loved one was injured because of another party, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you recover what you have lost without the hassle of having to deal with difficult insurance adjusters directly. We here at West Law Firm have years of experience in recovering losses for our clients. We can help you recover things such as:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages and benefits
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Lost earning capacity: a decrease in a person’s ability to earn income
- Loss of consortium: loss of some of the benefits of a family relationship due to the accident or injury
- Property Damage
We invite you to call us for a Free Consultation to get more details about your rights and options. Call us toll-free at 1-877-943-9378. Also, there’s no fee unless and until you recover compensation.
Brooks West is a West Virginia personal injury lawyer who helps people who have been injured by negligence or wrongful conduct. He is the President and founder of West Law Firm and has been an attorney since 2005. Brooks is a Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum member and has been awarded the AV Preeminent Rating from Martindale-Hubbell.