After you’ve been involved in a car accident, the pain you feel can be unbelievable, especially down your spine. Whiplash is the #1 medical complaint for car accident victims, and whiplash can affect not only your neck, but your entire spine right down to your tailbone.
There are four stages of whiplash – first, as impact occurs, your mid-back is pressed flat against your seat back, which compresses your spine upward. Second, your torso accelerates with impact, but your head does not. This creates a “whipping back” motion of your head, until your head reaches the headrest. Third, your torso slows, but your head accelerates forward. Fourth, your torso is held in place by the seat restraint, while your head snaps forward. The second and fourth stages of whiplash are where the majority of the damage occurs to the soft tissues.
When you get whiplash from a car accident, you experience muscle and ligament strains, spinal disc fiber tears, and vertebrae being pushed out of place. Even your spinal cord and nerve roots that extend from your spinal cord are stretched. Your brain hits the inside of your skull, which can cause a concussion on top of the whiplash injury.
Other injuries that can be caused by whiplash trauma include:
- Headaches – Usually a result of a whiplash injury, headaches can continue to be a problem even after the injury has been treated and healed.
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues – TMJ can cause popping, clicking, and pain in your jaw. Chiropractors can usually treat TMJ, or refer you to someone that can. If left untreated, TMJ issues can result in headaches, trouble eating, ear pain, and facial pain.
- Brain injuries – Concussion is a common injury due to the force of the impact of a car accident.
- Dizziness and vertigo – These are usually symptoms resulting from the injury to your upper back and neck, and they usually resolve quickly after treatment.
- Lower back pain – Whiplash injuries can even affect your lower back due to compression of the vertebrae.
All of this trauma can result in excruciating pain in the back and neck areas. Many whiplash and back injuries will heal on their own with time, but here are 10 tips to help you speed up that healing so that you can once again be pain free!
- Place ice on your neck for around 15 minutes every two hours, and continue to do this for up to three days. This will reduce your pain and the swelling of the soft tissues in your neck and back. (Make sure you’ve wrapped the ice or cold pack in a thin towel – you don’t need ice burns on top of everything else!)
- Consider taking some type of painkiller (NSAIDS work best). This will also reduce swelling, and help alleviate some of the pain you are feeling. Please remember to talk to your doctor first, so that you do not experience any drug interactions with current prescriptions you may be taking.
- If over-the-counter medications don’t help you, or your pain is still at a level that you cannot tolerate, talk to your doctor about a prescription muscle relaxer or painkiller. These prescriptions should be a last resort, as many of them can become habit forming. Discuss the benefits and drawbacks with your doctor.
- A neck brace may offer some temporary relief of the worst of the pain immediately following a car accident. The key is not to use a neck brace for an extended period, as the brace will actually begin to weaken the muscles of the neck and upper back due to non-use.
- Moist heat can be used after the first two days of icing your neck and back. You want to make sure that as much of the swelling has been reduced as possible before applying any heat, as heat will bring blood into the area.
- After your pain has begun to subside a bit, consider getting a relaxation massage. This gentle type of massage will help relax you and your muscles, and an experienced massage therapist can help reduce muscular pain by working on those areas affected by your injuries.
- One of your strongest allies during your period of recovery from whiplash and back injuries is a well-qualified, licensed chiropractor. They will be able to help restore your range-of-motion by manipulating your spine. They will also be able to reposition the vertebrae in your spine that may have gotten misaligned during the impact of your accident.
- Your doctor or chiropractor may recommend physical therapy, or soft tissue rehabilitation, after your accident. This will give you practical exercises to perform to make sure that you can do all the things you used to do before the accident occurred.
- You may be given stretches and exercises that you should do while at home. This will increase the effectiveness of any medical care or chiropractic care you seek, as you will not be relying solely on a practitioner for your recovery. Other basic care like staying hydrated and getting enough sleep are incredibly important as your body recovers from the trauma of your accident.
- If you have long-term pain that does not resolve after proper initial care at home, and/or from a chiropractor or physician, you may need to see a specialist to address where this pain is originating. The physical forces your body is subject to during an accident are enormous, and can result in injuries that are not easily resolved. You may need deeper treatment, or surgery to correct the damage done to your spine. Luckily, these extensive treatments aren’t common, and the above tips should help you recovery quickly!