Neck pain after a car accident is one of the most common injury sites. The neck is the most mobile portion of the spine, has the unique ability to bend and rotate, and the head’s weight can function as a weighted pendulum placing high loads on the neck. This is the perfect “recipe” for developing injuries to the head and neck during an accident.
So, What Can You Do for Your Neck Pain After a Car Accident?
Fear not; there are various treatment options to help improve neck pain after a car accident. It is important to note that you should seek medical attention within 14 days of your accident to ensure care and help coordinate insurance coverage. Want our help? Appointments are available with our Excel Pain and Spine team within 48-hours or less. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
We have also compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions to help every patient figure out their next steps after a car accident. These questions are important when starting your search and will help you find the correct provider for your situation.
Common Causes of Neck Pain After a Car Accident
Before we dive into the treatments, let’s first review the most common causes of neck pain after a vehicle accident.
Whiplash and Soft Tissue Injuries
The most common term used to describe neck pain after a car accident is whiplash. This is not a specific medical diagnosis. Instead, it helps describe common symptoms after a high-velocity neck injury. Car accidents commonly result in muscle spasms, sprains, and strains. These are typically characterized by muscle tenderness and a decreased ability to bend or rotate the neck. Injuries to the ligaments, tendons, fascia, or connective tissues are common after a car accident. The stretching or tearing of these structures can cause pain and, in severe cases, instability of the spine.
Facet Joint Injuries
The joints of the neck, known as the facet joints, are commonly injured during a car accident. These joints allow for movement and are susceptible to damage, most commonly when the neck is forced into hyperextension, such as being rear-ended. In some cases, these joints can be dislocated. This can result to only in neck pain but also pain that radiates to the head and shoulders.
Damage to the intervertebral discs can occur after a car accident. Terms like a slipped disc, herniated disc, or bulging disc refer to this structure’s damage. This damage can result in neck and arm pain, known as radiculopathy if the disc leaks or contacts an adjacent nerve.
Headaches and pain that radiates up the back of the head often occur when the neck is injured. It is vital to make sure the headaches are not caused by a concussion or traumatic brain injury, as many symptoms overlap.
Common Treatments for Neck Pain after Car Accident
No two patients’ pain journeys are the same, so their treatment plans should not be either. Every treatment plan should be tailored to the patient and their specific goals by a pain management specialist, but here is an introduction to some of the most common treatments for neck pain after a car accident.
When you cannot see a provider quickly, home remedies might provide the pain relief you seek for neck pain after a car accident.
Heat decreases stiffness, improves tissue flexibility, increases blood flow to injured tissue. Hot packs, heating pads, paraffin baths, whirlpool baths, or saunas are all examples of ways of using heat to improve pain. We typically recommend 30 minutes of treatment followed by a break of at least 30 minutes. This can be used throughout the day.
Massage treatments can also improve pain and range of motion after a car accident. Massage therapy relieves muscle tension, reduces pain, and improves circulation. Theracane, home massage device, or massage are all good options to aid with relief.
Low impact exercise can aid with improving neck pain after a car accident as well as mood. Low impact exercises have been shown to decrease acute and chronic pain long-term. Exercise reduces joint stiffness, improves strength, and lubricates joints. Walking, pool exercise, Tai Chi, and yoga are good options for decreasing pain and improving function.
A TENS unit is a small device that can be purchased over the counter or obtained via a medical provider. A TENS unit sends small painless electrical signals through the skin using an adhesive patch. These signals help interrupt painful nerve firing and decrease muscle spasms.
Physical therapy under the guidance of a licensed therapist can be a helpful way of improving neck pain after a car accident. Often physical therapy can aid with stretching and strengthening of injured neck muscles and soft tissues. Therapy aids with regaining loss of movement and function in a structured, safe environment to decrease healing and recovery time.
Chiropractic care and spinal manipulation are effective for acute and subacute neck pain. Chiropractic care can help realign the spinal segments and restore normal movement. Spinal manipulation is also an effective option for headaches after a car accident.
Medications can be used to treat pain after a car accident. These medications are typically used in conjunction with other therapies and injections to accelerate healing and relief.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as prescription-strength ibuprofen, Mobic, or Celebrex can be used to decrease swelling and tissue inflammation after injury.
Muscle spasms medications such as Flexeril, baclofen, and tizanidine can help to improve range of motion and help improve sleep after sustaining a neck injury.
Nerve pain medications including gabapentin, Lyrica, or Topamax are commonly used to slow abnormal nerve activity after an injury. These medications can aid with pain from pinched nerves and/or headaches.
Trigger Point Injections
Trigger points are described as tender points, spasms, or hyperirritable areas in the muscles. Patients typically can feel the trigger points as nodules that are painful to pressure. The most common locations for trigger points are the neck, upper back, and low back. Trigger point injections are quick injections performed at locations to provide rapid relief and decrease pain and muscle spasms.
Facet Injections, Medial Branch Blocks, and Radiofrequency Ablation
The joints of the neck are called facet joints. These joints have a small nerve called the medial branch nerve, which sends pain signals from the neck to the brain. Neck pain after a car accident commonly results from degeneration or injury within the facet joints. This pain is often felt on either side of the spine at the affected levels and results in pain patterns along the head, neck, and shoulders. Cervical facet blocks, cervical medial branch blocks, and cervical facet joint injections are terms made to describe similar procedures. This pain is treated with medial branch nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation, and facet injections.
Epidural Steroid Injections
Cervical epidural steroid injections (CESI) are intended to treat multiple causes of both neck and arm pain. Common conditions treated with cervical epidural steroid injections include: “pinched nerves,” radiculopathy, and herniated or bulging discs. A cervical epidural steroid injection or (CESI) is an injection of a potent anti-inflammatory medication into the epidural space of the neck using x-ray guidance. The epidural space is an area of the body where the spinal nerves are located and often are inflamed, resulting in significant pain and sometimes weakness. The steroid medication provides an anti-inflammatory effect to reduce pain, nerve swelling, and irritation.
In some cases, the expertise of a surgeon is required to determine if a surgical procedure is required. Surgeries are typically needed when patients have structural damage resulting in neurologic deficits. Examples of the deficits are muscle weakness and loss of sensation. Surgery is also offered when there is instability or risk of damaging the spinal cord and nerves as the spine is no longer structurally sound. Lastly, surgery can be considered if patients continue to have pain despite trying the previously mentioned therapies, injections, and pain medication.
Because of the unique characteristics of a neck, there are many causes of neck pain after a car accident and many different treatment options. Our Excel Pain and Spine team recognizes that the road to pain relief can be a confusing journey. In addition to providing customized, personalized treatment plans, we strive to deliver positive friction-free experiences at every touchpoint to make the journey as stress-free as possible. This is particularly vital when patients suffer from an injury resulting from an accident, and time is of the essence. If you have neck pain after a car accident and need help getting relief to get back your life, we can help. If you would like to request an expedited visit with our providers, please click here.