Home » Patient Education » Should I Get My Whiplash Checked By a Doctor?
Whiplash is a cervical spine injury that occurs when the head and neck are forcibly jerked back and forth. It’s one of the most common neck injuries sustained during rear-end car accidents. The sudden movement of the head and neck injures, stretches, and tears the bones, intervertebral discs, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the neck.
If you have any neck pain, stiffness, or loss of mobility after a traumatic accident, you could be suffering from a whiplash injury. Now the question is: do you need to see a doctor for treatment? Keep reading to find out.
Signs Your Neck Pain Might Be Whiplash
Whiplash is one of the most common injuries caused by car accidents — particularly rear-end accidents. Other potential causes of a whiplash injury are falls, sports accidents, or physical assault. After any traumatic accident, you should monitor yourself carefully for signs of injuries. Whiplash symptoms can appear right after an accident, several hours after an accident, or even several days after an accident.
Remain vigilant for the following signs that indicate you may have a whiplash injury.
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Neck pain that intensifies with movement
- Pain that travels to the shoulders, upper back, or arms
- Difficulty moving the neck from side to side
- Muscle spasms
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Concentration and memory issues
- Sleeping problems
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the shoulders, arms, or hands
Do I Need to See a Doctor for Whiplash?
Yes — you should make an appointment to see your physician if you begin experiencing any of the symptoms listed above. Your doctor can recommend an appropriate treatment plan to reduce your pain, restore full range of motion, and help you get back to your normal activities. Additionally, your doctor will perform tests to ensure you don’t have associated injuries like a bone fracture or pinched nerve.
Even if you think your neck pain isn’t serious, play it safe and see your doctor for an evaluation. Receiving proper treatment can help speed up your recovery and prevent long-term pain and complications.
Care and Treatment of Whiplash
Mild to moderate cases of whiplash require little more than home care and treatment. Many people don’t need to take time off from work or school to treat their neck injury. Your doctor might recommend a combination of the following treatment measures.
- Rest. Take it easy for a few days — lay off from vigorous activity or high-impact exercise that could exacerbate neck pain and potentially worsen your injury. But remember that “rest” does not mean bed rest or complete immobilization. Too much bed rest can lead to increased pain and stiffness and a longer recovery. Follow your doctor’s guidelines for what you can and can’t do while you heal.
- Medication. An over-the-counter pain reliever (acetaminophen) or NSAID (ibuprofen, naproxen) can help relieve neck pain and discomfort.
- Hot/cold therapy. Apply ice packs to your neck for the first few days after the injury to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. After a few days, start using heat packs to reduce pain and relieve tightness, tension, and spasms.
- Stretches. Regaining range of motion as quickly as possible is crucial to whiplash recovery. As soon as you’re able, begin performing gentle neck stretches and exercises to improve strength, flexibility and range of motion. Your doctor will give you a program of stretches and exercises to do at home.
Mild to moderate whiplash injuries usually heal within a few days to weeks. If you have pain for longer than three months, talk to your doctor about modifying your treatment plan. More severe cases may require prescription medications, cortisone injections, and physical therapy. Most cases of whiplash heal completely, but some people experience long-term pain, loss of mobility, headaches and other complications for months or even years.
At USA Spine Care and Orthopedics, we offer a wide range of conservative, therapeutic, and surgical orthopedic and spine care treatments to help you find long-lasting relief from neck, back, and joint pain. Contact our team today to find out more and schedule a consultation.