Whiplash Symptoms and Treatment

What is Whiplash?

Basically, it is neck strain.  It is an injury commonly associated with car accidents because it results from an impact or blow that forces your head to jerk forward or backward in response to the impact.  The muscles and tendons in your neck can be stretched, injured, or event torn as a result of the traumatic force to your body.  

whiplash injury from impact of car accident
Photo by LiveScience

While a strain results from damage to the muscles or tendons, a sprain results when the actual ligaments, the tissues that connect the bones to one another, tears upon impact.  However, the symptoms and treatment for both neck sprains and strains are similar.  Learn more about whiplash, its symptoms and treatment, here.

What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

The symptoms of whiplash may not present immediately after the accident.  As a result of the accident, your body is likely pumping full of adrenaline and you may even be in a minor state of shock.  Car accidents are often sudden and unexpected and our bodies react vigorously trying to process what happened and assess the damage.  While you may feel “okay” at the time of the accident, the symptoms of whiplash can start to appear hours or even days later after the accident.  These could include:

  • Reduced range of motion, pain when moving your neck, and tightness in the neck
  • Pain when rocking your head from side to side or backward and forward.
  • Hardened or knotted neck muscles
  • Pain or stiffness when looking over your shoulders
  • Tenderness in your neck muscles 
  • Headaches at the base of the skull that radiate towards the forehead.

If you have a headache following a car accident that worsens or persists, or you're having trouble talking or feel confused, dizzy, or nauseous, you should get emergency treatment if you are at the scene of the accident, or schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately for a thorough examination.  You may also need X-rays, CT (computed tomography) scans, and other tests, to rule out other problems.  

What is the Treatment for Whiplash?

Sometimes whiplash can heal on its own after the accident.  WebMD recommends the following at-home treatment for whiplash:

  • Ice your neck to reduce pain and swelling as soon as you can after the injury.  Do it for 15 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days. Wrap the ice in a thin towel or cloth to prevent injury to the skin.
  • Take painkillers or other drugs, if recommended by your doctor.  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or Aleve, to help with pain and swelling.  However, these medicines can have side effects. Never use them regularly unless your doctor specifically says you should.  Check with your doctor before taking them if you take other medicines or have any medical problems.  If over the counter medications do not work, prescription painkillers and muscle relaxants may be necessary.
  • Use a neck brace or collar to add support, if your doctor recommends it.  However, they are not recommended for long-term use, because they can actually weaken the muscles in your neck.
  • Apply moist heat to your neck -- but only after 2-3 days of icing it first. Use heat on your neck only after the initial swelling has gone down. You could use warm, wet towels or take a warm bath.
  • Other treatments, like ultrasound and massage, may also help.

If you feel you are experiencing pain from a whiplash injury from a car accident, you should contact your doctor immediately for an examination.  If you start pushing yourself before your neck strain is healed, you could end up with chronic neck pain or permanent injury.  Also, if you believe you are suffering from whiplash or other injuries following a car accident, how you handle treatment, whether you go to the doctor, and what you do in response to recommended treatment could have a significant impact on any claim you might have for recovery from the other driver's or your own insurance company as a result of the accident.  You should contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible to help guide you in the filing of a claim and making sure you get records to document your treatment.

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