June 17, 2024

How To Recover From Whiplash After An Auto-Accident


Your spine is a long chain of bones, discs, muscles, and ligaments that extend from your skull down to your tailbone. The cervical spine (your neck) is designed to support your head and protect the nerves that go out to you face, shoulders, and arms.

Postural changes, arthritis, and sudden injuries are a few of the primary causes of neck pain. Most of the time, the pain can be traced to a problem with either the muscles, bones, discs, or nerves in  your neck. That’s important to remember when considering how to recover from whiplash. Whiplash injuries can occur during a sports accident or during a slip and fall. 

And, as most of us know, whiplash injuries are also commonly sustained during auto accidents. These injuries can cause damage to the delicate structures in your neck and lead to symptoms such as  headaches, neck pain and stiffness, shoulder pain, and numbness and tingling or pain in your arms and hands. That pain is your body’s way of saying “pay attention inside now!”  Let’s take a closer look at what happens when a whiplash injury is sustained, and, perhaps more  importantly, how to recover from whiplash.

Why it Matters:

Over 1.5 million whiplash injuries occur each year, many from low impact collisions. 

Research does in fact show that low-speed crashes can create the force necessary to cause pain and injury. Because these injuries can be sustained in collisions other than car accidents and can occur at low  speeds, many people often ignore them and have never learned how to recover from whiplash.

The truth is that even minor damage to the ligaments of your neck can take up to 12 weeks to heal. In some cases, the partial tearing of the muscles, tendons, or ligaments around your spine can take  several months to heal. 

Depending on the severity of the ligament tearing, these injuries may also be classified as permanent. Whiplash can also cause damage to your facet joints and spinal discs by stretching them beyond their normal range of motion. Almost every bone in your neck has a pair of sliding joints towards the back called facet joints If an adhesion forms or the joint is stuck, your body will try to compensate. A stiff neck after an accident is a good clue that a whiplash injury may have occurred. Keep an eye out for swelling and bruising, which can take up to 24 hours to develop. Many people may already know what symptoms to watch for, but most people may not really know how to recover from whiplash. 

It's essential to control any inflammation early in your treatment and improve your range of motion. In other words, it’s key to use movement as medicine. While it may seem strange that movement can be a good thing even if it causes discomfort, we know that controlled movement can limit the amount of scar tissue that forms and may even increase the healing rate. 

Still wondering exactly how to recover from whiplash injuries? Let’s recap the key principles we just discussed. 

● Obtaining an accurate diagnosis with a complete examination and spinal imaging is the first step towards determining the best plan of care to heal from your injuries. 

● Inflammation is often the primary factor that causes pain and restricted movement after a whiplash injury. 

● Controlling inflammation naturally and reestablishing your range of motion can help reduce your pain and improve the results of your care.

While medications can provide temporary pain relief, they don't do a very good job of helping your body heal. One of the problems with pain medications is that they only treat the symptoms.They aren't doing a thing to resolve the injuries that are the real source of your pain.  That’s just one reason why Ignoring a new ache or delayed pain after a car accident and hoping it will go away is definitely not a smart strategy. Even minor symptoms can be an indication of a more significant problem.

And there’s something else to consider. 

The longer you wait to get evaluated and receive care, the higher your likelihood becomes of needing more aggressive medical care. In fact, without a proper diagnosis and swift treatment, your body may begin to "heal" with more scar tissue than necessary. The same principle applies if you ignore what that delayed pain after a car accident is trying to tell you and simply decide to try to live "around" your injuries. Doing so can lead to even more physical stress and compensation from other parts of your body and, ultimately, additional injuries.

Let’s take a look at some common manifestations of delayed pain after a car accident that may not appear for hours or days. 

● Headaches: A concussion, neck injury, mild traumatic brain injury, or whiplash can create headaches after a car accident, so don't dismiss a headache or dizziness until you’ve been adequately evaluated by a doctor. 

● Back Pain: Pain in your back after a car accident can take hours or days to begin, and it could be a sign of a spinal disc injury, soft tissue injury, or whiplash. 

● Neck / Shoulder Pain: If you notice pain in your neck, shoulders, or arms, it may be a sign of whiplash or a spinal injury.

Next Steps:

With the right healthcare team, most people can get back to their full life and activities without the need for drugs or surgery. Chiropractors focus on the structure and function of your spine. When your spine is functioning optimally, your body is able to heal itself, no medications needed. 

Chiropractors are considered essential after an accident because of our focus on improving your movement, biomechanics, and functional ability while reducing your pain. We're here to help guide your recovery process and theirs every step of the way. 

Science Source: The Treatment of Neck Pain and Whiplash-Associated Disorders. JMPT. 2016. 


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