Neck Pain After a Car Accident? What to Do When You Have Whiplash

pain after car accident

In the United States, there are around 6 million car accidents every year. And 3 million are injured as a result of these car crashes.

As you can imagine, if you drive a vehicle, it’s not really a question of if you’ll get injured, but instead, when.

Perhaps you’ve been driving around lately, and as a result of either your fault or another driver’s, you’ve had a collision. Not only will this result in costly repairs, but it’ll also cause you aches and pains.

For example, do you have neck pain after a car accident? Then you might have whiplash.

Read on to find out what the exact symptoms are, what you need to do, and how you can seek fair compensation for the injuries you’ve sustained.

What Is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a condition that happens when you have sudden, rapid movement. You can think of the movement as similar to cracking a whip; hence, then name.

This most often happens when you’re in a car (moving or standing) and you’re hit from any angle. In most cases, rear-end collisions are the most common cause of whiplash.

You may think that it needs to involve high speeds, but that’s not true at all. You can get whiplash even when the impact is at very low speeds!

In fact, you can get whiplash from other things as well, such as sports injuries, physical abuse, work-related injuries, and other types of trauma that causes your neck to suddenly jerk.

The main thing about whiplash is your neck experiences a jarring movement, which then injuries the soft tissue surrounding it. This includes your discs, bones in your spine, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. As you can imagine, this is a lot in your body that can potentially get injured, which means you shouldn’t take whiplash lightly.

What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Here are some of the common symptoms of whiplash you need to look out for after a car accident:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion in your neck
  • Worsened pain when moving your neck
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Tenderness in the shoulders, upper back, and/or arms
  • Pain in the shoulders, upper back, and/or arms

You may also want to be aware of some of the less common symptoms that come with whiplash:

  • Ringing in your ears
  • Blurry vision
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble with your memory
  • Irritability
  • Depression

What’s important is that you look for these symptoms not just immediately, but a few days afterward as well. The thing with whiplash is you may not feel it while at the moment; this is due to all the adrenaline flowing through your body and the shock you’re feeling from the accident.

Once you get home, rest, and wake up in the morning, there’s a chance you may feel the injury. But not always; although it usually takes within 24 hours to see symptoms, it may take longer.

What Do I Need to Do if I Think I Have Whiplash?

If, after reading the symptoms list above, you suspect you may have whiplash, then you’ll need to seek medical attention immediately. Even if you’re not too sure you have this condition, it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.

If you have any sort of pain, a doctor can tell right away if it’s whiplash. If not, then it might be a broken bone or another type of tissue damage. In either case, you’ll still need prompt medical treatment, so it’s best if you don’t delay an appointment.

Don’t try to stay at home or worse yet, try to go to school or work. You might think you can tough it out and the pain may go away with enough time, but you’d be wrong.

By trying to continue on with daily life, you may be exacerbating injuries and making them worse. As a result, you may be just prolonging your recovery time.

Also, if you’re thinking of seeking legal action for your car accident and injuries, it’s in your best case to go to the doctor ASAP to get your whiplash documented. That way, the opposition will have a harder time disputing your claims, as will insurance. This ensures that if you’re entitled to legal compensation, you’ll hit fewer road bumps.

If you don’t have a regular doctor you usually go to, you’ll want to pick one that’s experienced in whiplash. Make sure you ask the right questions to choose the right doctor for you.

What Happens During an Examination for Whiplash?

When you go see your doctor for whiplash, the first thing they’ll do is ask how you were injured. Make sure you give them every detail of the car accident, as that can paint a better picture for them as to which parts of your body were injured and how.

Next, they’ll ask about your symptoms. Again, be as thorough as you can, as they’ll be able to better diagnose and treat you if they have all the possible information. They may also ask how your quality of life is now, regarding daily activities you have to perform.

After this part, they’ll move onto the physical exam. Your doctor may have you perform simple movements, especially those involved in your everyday activities.

The main thing your whiplash injury doctor will test is your range of motion (in both your neck and your shoulders). Should it hurt at any point, they’ll note the degree of motion that either causes or increases the amount of pain you’re in.

During this physical examination, they’ll see where you’re tender; this is usually the neck, back, and shoulders. Other things they’ll check your arms and legs for their reflexes, the sensation felt, and strength.

Possible Tests Your Doctor Might Order

In general, you shouldn’t need any further tests to be ordered. But if your doctor is concerned you may have some further injuries, they may add some tests on top of your examination.

For example, if they suspect you have breaks, fractures, or dislocations, they may order an x-ray for your neck, back, and/or shoulders. If they think you have arthritis in these areas, an x-ray can confirm that too.

Another test your doctor might order is a computerized tomography (CT) scan. This is similar to x-ray (and works similarly as well), but it shows details of your bone on a more granular level. It can tell the doctor if you have any bone damage.

Lastly, they might order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan as well. This test is different from x-rays and CT scans in that it uses radio waves and a magnetic field instead. This is a pretty detailed test that can not only tell if your bones are damage, but it can also reveal other injuries, such as damage to your spine, ligaments, discs, or other soft tissues.

How Is Whiplash Treated?

After confirming you have whiplash, your doctor will most likely take a multi-specialty approach to treatment. These will include pain management, restoration of range of motion, and resuming of normal activities. The medical specialist involved in your treatment can involve a neurologist, orthopedic doctor, physiatrist, chiropractor, pain management doctor and will most likely include physical therapy and acupuncture.

Below, we’ll explain each approach in more detail.

Pain Management

Obviously, you’ll need to take it easy in the first few days of your injury so not only can you heal, but so you can also decrease the chance of making the injury worse. But don’t do too much bed rest, as that can also slow down your recovery.

Your doctor might recommend that you use an ice or heat pack on your neck. You can leave it on for up to 15 minutes each time, 6 times a day.

To lessen the feeling of pain, you can take some over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. If your case is particularly severe, your doctor can also prescribe you antidepressants (which can help with nerve pain), muscle relaxants, and also inject you with lidocaine. 

Restoration of Range of Motion

It’s natural that your neck, shoulders, and back will feel stiff after your car accident. But to avoid losing your range of motion and strength in those areas, you’ll have to do some exercises.

Your doctor will teach you some stretching exercises to help you get the range of motion in your neck back. Most of them will involve rotating, tilting, and bending your neck so you can get full flexibility back.

Another important exercise is rolling your shoulders. Not only does this help with your shoulders, but also, your neck and back.

Make sure you either take a shower or apply a hot pack to these areas before doing these exercises. This will help loosen up any tight areas and decrease the chance of you reinjuring them while performing these exercises.

Resuming of Normal Activities

In addition to getting your range of motion back, you may need more treatment to resume your normal activities.

In this case, you may get a referral to a physical therapist near you. With your physical therapist, you can work to keep your range of motion, strengthen your muscles, and prevent reinjury in the future. They may also do transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which is the utilization of small electric currents to relieve pain.

You might also need to use a foam collar. Make sure to heed your doctor’s advice when it comes to using one, since like with rest, too much of it can delay your recovery.

How Long Does It Take to Heal From Whiplash?

Whiplash injury is a condition that affects everyone differently. Factors that go into how long it takes for you to heal from whiplash depend on the nature of the injury itself, how severe it was, your health, existing pain, and your age.

If it’s not a very severe case, you’re in good health, and you’re young, you can probably expect the whiplash to go away within several weeks. However, it’s not uncommon to be in pain for months or even years after your initial car accident.

If in your case, you had a rapid onset of neck pain, headaches, and pain that radiated from the neck to your arms, then there’s a higher chance of you experiencing chronic pain after your crash.

Other factors for worse recovery include prior incidences of whiplash, existing pain in your neck and/or lower back, and older age. But just because you fit these factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a worse time recovering; it just means you have a higher chance of things like chronic pain and slower healing time.

How Can I Get Some Financial Help for My Medical Bills?

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the chronic pain you might have after your accident, whiplash can be an expensive medical condition to treat. Naturally, you’ll want to try and seek financial help if possible.

In the United States, there are only 12 states that have no-fault insurance coverage; New York is one of them. This means even if the car accident was your fault, you can get compensation from your insurance company for your crash-related expenses.

No-fault coverage allows you to get compensation for things like hospital bills, diagnostic tests, prescription drugs, physical therapy, surgery, and lost wages. However, it won’t cover bodily injuries, which has to be a separate claim. 

To file a no-fault claim, you’ll have to fill out the NF-2 form and file it within 30 days of your accident. You’ll also need to fill out a no-fault wage verification report and your receipts for reimbursement.

Got Pain After a Car Accident? Then Get Help Today

If you have pain after a car accident and think you may have whiplash, then you need to seek immediate medical attention. The sooner you get your pain addressed, the better your recovery will be.

In addition, if you’ve sustained injuries during work, then you may be able to claim workers’ compensation

Do you think you have whiplash? Then don’t wait another minute. Call 1-800-897-8440 to book your appointment with us today and get the proper medical attention you need to make a full and speedy recovery.