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Understanding Whiplash Treatment Options After a Car Accident

Whiplash Treatment Options After a Car Accident

When people think of whiplash injury, they often think of car accidents, but the injury, while synonymous with collisions, is not only the result of wrecks. Many athletes can experience the injury during a fall, tackle, or another mishap.

Whiplash is common in collisions because of the nature of crashes. When driving, the body is moving at the same speed as the vehicle, even if it does not feel that way.

A car accident causes a sudden and often violent stop, forcing the dramatic movement of the neck, back and forth. The rapid movement of the neck muscles and bones is likened to cracking a whip, hence the name.

Thankfully, whiplash is a treatable neck injury once diagnosed. 

Whiplash Symptoms

Whiplash injury is a potentially hidden injury, one that does not immediately appear after an accident. It can take the injury several days before the numerous signs and symptoms begin to show, including: 

  • Headaches 
  • Neck pain, neck strain,  and stiffness
  • Worsening pain with movement 
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms 
  • Dizziness 
  • Fatigue 
  • Pain in the arms, shoulders, or upper back 
  • Decreased range of motion in the neck 

Whiplash Symptoms

If the condition is severe, it can cause whiplash-associated disorders, such as memory loss, blurred vision, sleep disturbances, tinnitus, and possibly depression. If you experience whiplash pain or any other symptoms of whiplash, it is necessary to seek treatment.

While many whiplash injuries can heal safely on their own, others can result in significant damage. 

Diagnosing Whiplash

Diagnosing whiplash is a straightforward, if not somewhat involved, process. Whiplash diagnosed early enough can be treated to prevent further injury.

A whiplash injury doctor will first need to interview you about the car accident and your injury symptoms. They will ask several questions, like: 

  • How long have you been feeling the pain? 
  • Has the pain been getting worse? 
  • How often do you feel pain, and what seems to instigate it? 
  • How does the pain affect your daily activities? 

Once the physician understands your symptoms, they will move on to the physical examination. During the exam, they will need to test your range of motion, which will involve moving your head and raising your arms. The doctor will also check your strength and reflexes.

While imaging tests will not necessarily provide insight into a whiplash injury, your doctor may order an X-ray, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to rule out any other possible causes of your pain.

Sometimes, car crashes can produce herniated discs, neck sprain, and pinched nerves, all of which can cause similar symptoms to whiplash. 

Whiplash Treatment Options

The focus of whiplash treatments is to relieve pain while restoring a typical range of motion. A treatment plan will consider the severity of the injury and weigh the need for medical intervention.

Most plans doctors prescribe to treat whiplash come down to a combination of pain management and physical therapy or exercise. For mild whiplash, a patient can likely perform at home and self-care. More severe cases of whiplash might require prescription medications and monitored or guided physical therapy. 

Self-Care

Many patients are surprised when a doctor recommends self-care as the primary treatment for whiplash. Still, many self-care options are the best treatment for mild and even moderate injuries.

When discussing self-care, a doctor is likely referring to rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, and a combination of heat and cold therapy. 

When a doctor suggests rest, they are not telling a patient to remain inactive; maintaining regular schedules and routines is essential to the recovery of whiplash from a car accident. Rest means taking things easy and refraining from activity that aggravates the injury. 

It is crucial to keep inflammation and swelling down for the first few days of a whiplash injury. You can minimize swelling by using an ice pack over the sore area several times per day for twenty minutes at a time.

The cold will close small blood vessels and limit inflammation. After the first few days, patients can switch between cold packs and heat. 

Medical Care

It is possible that whiplash is too severe for self-care or that at-home options are not resolving the problem. When the condition is severe or is taking too long to heal, a doctor might recommend medical interventions.

While many patients prefer to handle whiplashes holistically, a doctor only wants to see patients heal and return to a normal range of motion and activity. There are many medical treatment options for whiplash, and a doctor might choose any one or a combination of several, depending on the severity or complexity of the injury. 

1. Medication

Whiplash treated without the use of prescription pain relievers is preferred. However, if over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are not working as an effective whiplash treatment, a doctor may reconsider for the sake of the patient.

Medication

Most doctors understand that patients must continue to go to work and perform family duties despite whiplash. If a patient is in too much pain to function, it is not good for their physical or psychological state or their families.

Therefore, a physician might prescribe more potent pain relievers, such as opioids or muscle relaxers. 

2. Physical Therapy

Patients with minor whiplash injuries often receive exercise pamphlets with instructions on a fundamental range of motion tasks. However, simple at-home exercises might not be enough to recover from severe injuries successfully. 

Depending on the severity of your injury, a doctor might recommend patients to a licensed physical therapist or other qualified professional. These medical professionals will design a program to improve the flexibility and strength of the neck.

Some patients find that physical therapy works as a pain reliever and stress reducer. 

3. Steroid Injections

One of the primary concerns for a whiplash injury doctor treating a patient is persistent inflammation in the nerves and tissues. In most cases of ongoing inflammation, a patient experienced a herniated disc during the car wreck.  

A doctor must act pragmatically to restore range of motion and heal the injury. Often the best option when combatting inflammation is a steroid injection. For whiplash, a doctor might use a cervical epidural steroid injection. 

Other options a doctor might choose include a trigger point injection or a cervical facet joint injection. The first injection helps relieve irritated muscles, and the latter relieves joint pain.  

4. Manual Manipulation

While nontraditional, chiropractic therapy can help relieve symptoms and pain stemming from whiplash. Still, before working with a chiropractor, it is best to talk with your primary physician to ensure that manual or spinal manipulation will not worsen the condition.

Manual Manipulation

Many doctors may suggest manipulative therapies, like chiropractic care. While there is a stereotype or social bias against chiropractic treatments, there is some evidence to support the effectiveness of the treatment, especially when combined with physical therapy and exercise. 

Chiropractic therapy is generally safe. Still, patients should know that spinal manipulations can result in minor damage and symptoms like dizziness and numbness, but the damage of spinal tissues is rare. 

5. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is well-known for helping people relax and relieving muscle tension and stress. While the benefits of massages are enough to warrant therapeutic use for whiplash, the treatment is best combined with other therapies. 

A massage can help with pain relief and muscle recovery of whiplash from a car accident. Combining massage therapy with physical therapy and possibly chiropractic care is potentially more rewarding than focusing on only a single treatment.  

Many physicians recommend massages as a form of pain relief. The greater relief a patient can get from nonprescriptive means, the better. Prescription-strength pain relievers can become addictive and dangerous, and they are not suited for all patients. 

6. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is another alternative and holistic approach to pain management. A licensed acupuncturist inserts ultrafine needles into specific areas of the neck, encouraging relief. While the evidence is not conclusive, some reports suggest acupuncture does provide some relief. 

However, as with massage therapy and chiropractic care, you should not place all your care with the practice. Acupuncture is a relatively safe therapy with minimal risks. Still, to get the most benefit from the treatment, you will want to combine it with other options, such as physical therapy. 

7. Psychotherapy

Working with a whiplash injury doctor provides the best outcome for your physical health, but you may also need to consider your psychological health. Car accidents are traumatic events, and severe whiplash injuries can restrict movement and participation in everyday activities.

The combination of trauma and limitation can result in depression and anxiety. For patients with severe whiplash injuries or those who experienced a severe car crash, scheduling a psychotherapy session to discuss your trauma is often worth it. 

As a patient, you have many whiplash treatment options depending on the severity of your injury. The critical thing to remember is that seeking treatment is often necessary, even when you feel reluctant.

Whiplash injuries can mask other injuries or can worsen over time. Therefore, it is in your best interest to contact the medical offices listed in the Injured Call Today directory and schedule a preliminary assessment of your injury and review your options. Doctors in our directory accept no-fault insurance, PIP (Personal Injury Protection), workers’ compensation, and other health insurance plans. Same-Day Appointments may be available.