Crash! That dreaded sound of your car hitting someone else’s car. After making sure you are okay and checking the damage to your car, you start to think about the headache (literally!) that will follow a car accident. Even in very minor car collisions, you may experience whiplash symptoms, which can easily turn to chronic pain if they are not addressed.
Whiplash symptoms can range anywhere from achy neck and shoulder muscles, tingling or numbness down the arms, to headache and stiffness in the neck joints. When a car is hit from behind, the seat back pushes into your torso as your neck gets thrown backwards then forwards very quickly. This can put a very large strain on muscles and ligaments that help to support your spine. In a higher speed collision, your brain may be forced into the back part of your cranium as your neck is forced forward. This can lead to more severe symptoms such as vision changes or balance deficits.
It is very common for whiplash symptoms to begin the next day or even several days after an accident. They may be short lived, or may persist for several weeks or months. In the case of a severe car accident, medical professionals will be involved immediately to help determine the best plan of care for you. If you were involved in a minor collision and are suffering from some muscle and joint aches and pains, here are some things that you can try to help alleviate your symptoms:
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory: With a whiplash injury, you most likely will have a build-up of inflammation through your cervical spine, which can be contributing to your pain. Make sure to follow the correct dosage written on the bottle or consult with your primary doctor about the best choice of medication for you.
- Stretches: Performing range of motion exercises for your neck will help to lessen the stiffness and help you regain your full mobility. Slowly rotate your neck from side to side 10 times each, several times a day. If you limit your motion, you will continue to experience stiffness through your muscles and joints, which may lead to chronic pain. A cervical collar should be used only in situations when warranted by a doctor.
- Massage: Performing massage to the muscles will help to relieve the tightness and discomfort felt after a whiplash injury. Soft tissue massage brings increased blood flow to an area to help with healing of the damaged muscles and tissues. It may also lessen symptoms of headaches. Make sure you inform the massage therapist about your accident and what symptoms you are experiencing.
- Stability exercises: Stability exercises will help to strengthen your neck muscles. Use your hand to gently push against your forehead. Use your neck muscles to resist the motion and to remain still. Repeat this 10 times while pushing from behind as well as from the side.
- Physical therapy: If symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, you may benefit from seeing a physical therapist. A physical therapist may perform manual stretches and massage to your joints and muscles as well as check your cervical alignment. They will give you an exercise program to help you restore your body’s natural balance of strength and stability after a car accident.
If you have recently been in a car accident and are experiencing any symptoms such as numbness or tingling, pain down the arm, changes in vision, hearing or balance or dizziness, please consult a medical professional promptly for proper treatment.