How to Treat Back and Whiplash Injuries After an Auto Accident
Motor vehicle accidents are typical occurrences in our society, and injuries sustained following a car accident are quite common. It is important to seek care from a licensed health care provider as soon as possible following a car accident in order to evaluate and diagnose the extent of your injuries. It is valuable to seek medical attention within the first 24-72 hours following a car accident, even if pain is not immediately recognized and the accident seemed to be a “minor” slow-speed collision.
Medical literature shows that of all road-traffic accidents, 90% occur at speeds of less than 14 mph, and it is in these that whiplash injuries occur.1 Studies also show that the threshold for injury in a car accident is suggested to be just 6-9 mph, and a change of velocity of 2.5 mph has been shown to cause symptoms.2
What Is Whiplash and What Are the Treatment Options?
Whiplash or whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) is described as an acceleration-deceleration transfer of energy to the neck which typically results in injury or functional impairment. During whiplash trauma, the neck is hyperextended and exceeds its normal range of motion. This can lead to intervertebral joint injury, intervertebral disc injury, muscle strain injury, ligament injury, neurovascular injury, vertebral fracture, and resulting pain.
Many effective treatments exist to help with whiplash injuries and resulting pain. Depending upon medical examination and the extent of your injuries, certain treatments may be more applicable than others or in combination with other treatments. Treatments may include:
- Active Release Technique® (ART)
- Cervical Steroid Injection
- Chiropractic Manipulation
- Exercise and Nutrition Counseling
- Facet Injection
- Medication Management
- Spinal Decompression
What Can I Do to Help My Recovery?
Often, like any musculoskeletal condition, recovery can be enhanced with active self-care strategies. Keep reading for a detailed explanation on these strategies.
• Ice your neck to reduce pain and swelling as soon as you can after the injury. Apply a cold compress for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days following the accident. Wrap the ice in a towel or cloth to prevent injury to the skin. Local pharmacies and big box stores stock excellent ice packs for home use.
• Over-the-counter medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), can help with pain and swelling. However, these medicines can have side effects. Check with your doctor before taking them if you take other medicines or have any medical problems. If over-the-counter medications do not work, prescription medications and muscle relaxants may be helpful.
Resume Normal Activities of Daily Living
Oftentimes a high amount of pain is present following a car accident and our natural inclination is to remain inactive. Even though this mindset may seem natural, most of the time it is more beneficial to remain active within tolerance. Avoiding your normal routine may lead to deconditioning of your musculoskeletal system and further increase your pain levels. Maintaining proper posture and avoiding slouching can also help to increase your recovery rate.
Perform Home Exercises and Stretching
Upon medical examination and evaluation, your health care provider may prescribe a series of home exercises and stretches. It is important to create a habit of performing your prescribed home exercises daily as this allows for a return to normal biomechanics of your injured muscles/joints and decreases muscular tension.
Maintain Optimal Workplace Ergonomics
If your workplace environment is not ergonomic friendly, it can decrease your ability to heal and induce additional strain.
Most of our jobs today require long hours of sitting. The first step to maintaining a healthy workplace is to take consistent breaks from sitting. Even taking a few minute stretch/walking break every 30 minutes can greatly reduce muscular strain.
Secondly, it is helpful to promote a workplace that minimizes muscular/joint strain. Place your computer screen at eye level to avoid long periods of looking down. You can accomplish this by adjusting your chair and/or by resting your computer screen at an appropriate level.
Chairs can additionally act as a workplace irritation. Be sure to have a chair with a strong lumbar support. This will help to decrease strain on your lower back if a lumbar support is not available. You may consider placing a pillow or two between the back of the chair and your lower back for support. Chairs without armrests may require increased trapezius muscle and shoulder/neck use that may act to increase unnecessary strain.
Finally, telephones pose an added component of potential increased strain. To reduce telephone induced strain, make sure to avoid cradling the phone between your shoulder and ear. Utilizing the speaker phone or a hands free headset device are of great assistance.
For more information about treatments for whiplash and back pain, check out our treatments page.
- Association of British Insurers. Tackling Whiplash: prevention care compensation.November 2008:1-15.
- Davis CG. Rear-end impacts: vehicle and occupant response. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1998;21:629-39.
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