Neck Pain After a Car Accident (2024)

Neck pain is one of the common symptoms after a car accident. Pain involving the neck area after a car accident can range from mild to severe—and may last for just a few days before resolving on its own or could be a sign of a serious injury.

While you will likely need urgent medical attention for severe neck pain, it’s also important to get an evaluation for mild neck pain after a car accident. A physical examination can help determine whether mild neck pain is a sign of an injury that requires medical care. Treatment can provide pain relief and will help you heal more quickly.

This article will help you know what to do if you’re experiencing pain after a car accident.

Neck Pain After a Car Accident (1)

What Causes Neck Pain After a Car Accident? Understanding Whiplash

Whiplash is the most common type of neck injury after a car accident. Whiplash can happen when your neck jerks suddenly—usually as a moving car comes to an abrupt stop, sometimes with a sudden crash. This rapid jerking can cause stretching, tears, or bruising of the muscles, joints, and supportive tissue in the neck.

Symptoms of whiplash can include:

  • Pain and soreness of the neck
  • Stiffness
  • Aching of the upper back or shoulders
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hypersensitivity of the neck and upper back
  • Spasms in the muscles of your neck and upper back

You might develop painful symptoms of whiplash right away. Some symptoms, such as stiffness or spasms, can develop gradually. The effects of whiplash can feel worse at times—such as when you are tired or after being in the same position for a long time.

Neck Pain After a Car Accident (2)

Other Common Neck Injuries After a Car Accident

Whiplash isn’t the only neck injury that can happen due to a car accident. Sometimes, bone fractures of the upper spine, blood vessel injuries, or other injuries can happen, too.

Neck injuries after a car accident may include

  • Whiplash: This is caused by sudden jerking forward or back of the neck.
  • Joint displacement: The connective tissue holding the spinal segments in place can stretch or tear, leading to instability of the joints.
  • Bone fracture: Any of the bones of the upper spine can break due to trauma.
  • Nerve injury: Compression of a nerve can occur due to swelling, bleeding, or bone displacement.
  • Herniated cervical spine disc: Movement of a spinal disc due to stretching of a ligament can cause spinal cord or nerve injury.
  • Vertebral artery tear: A blood vessel can be damaged due to traumatic injury.
  • Spinal cord injury: This can be caused by a herniated disc or direct traumatic injury to the spinal cord.

These are serious injuries that can cause severe disability or can be life-threatening. These injuries can cause pain. Other signs may include weakness or sensory changes on one side of the body.

Timing of Neck Pain After a Car Accident

Timing can vary:

  • Neck pain can start within a few hours after a car accident. Other symptoms, such as spasms or muscle stiffness, can sometimes begin days or weeks after a car accident.
  • Generally, mild pain should resolve within a few weeks. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, ice packs, or heat packs should help with comfort.
  • Persistent pain may require prescription therapies, injections, and physical therapy after a serious injury has been ruled out.

What Is Whiplash?

Getting Neck Pain Evaluated After an Accident

It’s crucial to get prompt medical attention if you have neck pain after a car accident. Your evaluation will include a physical examination, including a neurological examination. Additionally, you may need other diagnostic tests to help identify the areas of injury and to determine the next steps in your care.

In some instances, such as after a major car accident, you might be transported to a hospital by ambulance. Emergency response professionals might immobilize your neck with a supportive device in order to prevent further injury that can occur if your neck structure is unstable.

It can be difficult to know what type of care to get and what to do.

Get prompt medical attention for:

  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Weakness, sensory changes, vision changes

Make an appointment to see a healthcare provider for:

  • Mild aches of your neck or upper back
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stiffness
  • Spasms
  • Hypersensitivity

When in doubt, call a healthcare provider for advice about how soon you should be seen. Delaying care can lead to a worse outcome.

Diagnostic Tests for Neck Pain After a Car Accident

You might need one or more of these tests:

  • Neck X-ray
  • Upper spine X-ray
  • Cervical spine computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Electromyography (EMG) or nerve conduction study (NCV)
  • Brain CT or MRI

Treatment Options for Neck Pain After a Car Accident

Neck pain after a car accident can be managed in various effective ways. Physical therapy, medication, and interventional treatments can be beneficial and must be tailored to your specific situation.

Medications may include:

  • OTC options, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen), can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Muscle relaxers like Flexeril(cyclobenzaprine) and Lioresal (baclofen) can relieve stiffness.
  • Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation.
  • Prescription-strength pain relievers like Neurontin (gabapentin) may be recommended.
  • Injected anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxers, or pain medications can sometimes be an option.

Physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, acupressure, and meditation can help relieve muscle tightness and promote relaxation.

Depending on your condition, you might benefit from surgical intervention to repair damage such as a fracture or blood vessel injury.

Causes of Neck Pain and Treatment Options

Self-Care and Home Remedies

After you’ve been evaluated for the specific cause of your neck pain, you might be able to incorporate some at-home remedies to help improve your symptoms. At-home therapies should be guided by your healthcare provider, such as a physician, nurse practitioner, or physical therapist.

Generally, ice packs can help reduce swelling and inflammation and often provide comfort. For some people, a warm pack can also provide comfort.

Depending on the injury, you might receive instructions to rest for a few days or longer after the accident. After you have healed, you may be advised to stretch and exercise at home to strengthen the muscles of your neck, back, and shoulders and to avoid developing muscle stiffness or spasms.

How to Prevent Neck Injuries in Car Accidents

It’s important to prevent car accidents and consistently use the safety features built into vehicles to reduce the risk of an injury in case you are involved in a car accident.

Things you can do to stay safe:

  • Follow car seat requirements for children.
  • Use a seatbelt whenever you are in a vehicle, especially when it is moving.
  • Make sure your seat and headrest are positioned properly, whether you are a driver or a passenger.
  • Learn about your vehicle’s safety features, such as the backup camera.
  • Maintain your vehicle for safety by staying up to date with routine maintenance and getting car warnings checked out.

Summary

Neck pain is one of the most common symptoms after a car accident. Pain can result from muscle strain or bruising, or it can be a sign of severe trauma that requires medical treatment.

If your pain is significant or persistent, or if you have any associated symptoms, it’s crucial to get prompt medical attention. Even mild discomfort can indicate a traumatic injury and requires an evaluation.

Getting therapy—whether medication, a procedure, or physical therapy—can help you recover from neck pain after a car accident.

Neck Pain After a Car Accident (2024)

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