Car Accidents: Everything You Need to Know to Find Relief

Whiplash: The Symptoms You Need to Know

Whiplash is an injury that occurs when your body is suddenly forced backward and forward. It's the most common injury during an automobile accident and is one of the leading causes of chronic neck and back pain. While a little fender bender may not seem like a big deal, new research has shown that even small accidents can result in significant injuries.

The violent forces that occur during an auto accident can cause damage to your spinal discs, ligaments, tendons, and bones-even at "low" speeds. Most of these injuries happen because your head is quickly whipped backward and forward. This rapid back-and-forth motion frequently results in ligament tearing and spinal disc injuries. Symptoms such as neck pain, back pain, headaches, confusion, and even depression indicate that you've suffered a whiplash injury. You may not immediately notice any pain because of a spike in adrenaline during the accident. For many people, these symptoms may take hours or even a few days to develop after the initial shock of the car accident wears off.

  • Whiplash is an acceleration-deceleration injury that can affect your ligaments, spinal discs, muscles, and facet joints
  • There is often a period of little to no pain before the symptoms become worse
  • Symptoms of whiplash include neck or back pain, headache, radiating pain, confusion, and difficulty sleeping

It's smart to get a complete evaluation after an auto accident to minimize your risk of long-term pain. Getting the right care at the right time can make a big difference in your ability to heal quickly and avoid long-term chronic pain. Remember, even small accidents can cause injuries, so if you've been involved in an auto accident, be sure to reach out to our office as soon as possible so we can help you get on the relief road.

How Long Does Whiplash Last?

Symptoms of whiplash include neck pain, back pain, headaches, dizziness, or confusion—none of these sound like a good time. So, if you've been involved in a car accident, you may wonder how long these symptoms will last. The good news is that with a proper evaluation and early treatment, you have a high likelihood of getting well within a matter of weeks.

One of the most common injuries associated with whiplash is ligament tearing. Ligaments are short, tough bands of connective tissue that hold together the bones in your neck and the joints of your body. If these ligaments are torn, it can cause neck pain. The average time it takes a ligament to heal is about six weeks with the proper care and treatment. If you notice symptoms like headaches, dizziness, or memory issues, you may have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). A majority of people with a mild TBI recover within three months.

  • Whiplash injuries frequently cause tearing of the ligaments that support proper spinal motion and stability.
  • The acute inflammatory phase of injury lasts up to 72 hours, the repair phase takes up to 6 weeks, and the remodeling phase of healing can last up to a year
  • A non-healed ligament injury can result in osteoarthritis

After an accident, the most important step you can take is to receive a full evaluation. Only after a complete evaluation will you know what type of injuries you've sustained and, most importantly- how to get well. You would be surprised how many people shrug off a "small" accident and push their symptoms aside. While that may save you a little time today, it's likely to result in much more pain down the road.

Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident: What Does it Mean?

You may be surprised to learn that shoulder injuries and whiplash are some of the most common challenges after a car accident. If you are the driver and have your hands on the wheels at the time of the crash, the sudden force created by the accident can lead to a torn rotator cuff. Your shoulder is one of the most complex parts of your body and comprises a collection of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

The rotator cuff is a ball and socket joint made up of three bones: your arm bone (the humerus), your shoulder blade (the scapula), and your collarbone (the clavicle). The supporting muscles, ligaments, and tendons are designed to help you lift and rotate your arm. Your shoulder is one of your body’s most dynamic and unstable joints. It's hard to ignore a torn rotator cuff because…it hurts! Signs of a tear include shoulder pain when lifting your arm, weakness, pain when lying down, or a limited range of motion.

  • Shoulder impingement has been estimated to occur in up to 10% of people involved in car accidents
  • The shoulder is one of the most complex, dynamic, and unstable joints in the body, with a complex network of bones, ligaments, and muscles
  • The risk of neck or shoulder pain seven years after a collision was three times higher for patients with initial whiplash injuries than those without

Ignoring a shoulder injury after a car accident is not a good idea. Your shoulder is designed to move, and if you try to "let it heal" by not moving it, you're putting yourself at risk for a frozen shoulder. Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is when your shoulder develops adhesions due to lack of movement. This can result in severe pain that takes months to heal. If you have shoulder pain after an accident, time is of the essence! Our team is here and can provide a complete evaluation and treatment plan for you to get moving safely and heal quickly.

Finding Relief After a Car Accident without Drugs or Surgery

Screech. Bam. Uh-oh. You've been involved in a car accident. Your day has been thrown upside down, and a million thoughts are racing. If you don't feel immediate pain, you may be tempted to think you don’t have a problem. But waiting too long to seek care has been shown to increase the chances that you'll need more aggressive interventions. Taking the right action steps as quickly as possible after a car accident can greatly improve your overall health and healing. With the stress of an accident, calling the insurance company, getting a car repaired, etc., it's not uncommon for people to put their health and well-being last on the to-do list.

The problem is that the longer you wait to get evaluated and receive care, the higher your likelihood of needing more aggressive medical care. Without a proper diagnosis and treatment, your body may begin to "heal" with more scar tissue than necessary. You may also try to live "around" your injuries, which can cause additional stress and compensation on other parts of your body and lead to additional injuries. Research has shown that active care involving range of motion, mobilizing exercises, and strengthening can effectively reduce pain. We recommend three simple steps to give yourself the best chance to find relief without needing drugs or surgery.

The three steps to finding relief after a car accident

  1. Get an evaluation: A complete evaluation can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan
  2. Begin receiving care: After reducing inflammation, movement-based techniques are often recommended to help you regain your quality of life
  3. Stay consistent: Getting well is a process. Stay consistent with your care to heal as quickly as possible

What Option of Care Should I Choose?:

We have an amazing team of practitioners at Active Health & Wellness Clinic that can help you find relief. That being said, It is understanding that navigating the options for therapy after a car accident can be overwhelming. Each therapy modality—Chiropractic, Massage Therapy, Athletic Therapy, and Acupuncture—offers unique benefits that can contribute to your recovery process.

Doctors of Chiropractic (DC) work on aligning the spine to restore proper joint function combined with effective soft tissue therapies to address injuries from the whiplash forces. Our chiropractors specialize in assessing, diagnosing and treating injuries related to the spine, joints, and nervous system, helping to alleviate pain and restore mobility. Very effective therapies like IFC electrotherapy, ART-Active Release Techniques, Bioflex Laser Therapy, Computerized Spinal Decompression Therapy and Exercise Rehab protocols can be especially beneficial for addressing the neuro-musculoskeletal issues resulting from the impact of a car accident. If X-rays are recommended the Chiropractor will be able to prescribe that for you. 

Registered Massage Therapists (RMT) are trained to assess, and treat a wide range of musculoskeletal injuries, including those resulting from auto accidents. RMTs use hands-on techniques such as effleurage, petrissage, myofascial release and trigger point therapy to manipulate soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia. They combine this with joint mobilization, rehabilitation exercises and patient education to help you with relieving the muscle stiffness, soreness, and tension resulting from the trauma of a car accident.

Athletic Therapist's comprehensive training and expertise equip them to assess, and treat a wide range of musculoskeletal injuries, including those resulting from the impact of a car accident.  They utilize hands-on techniques such as soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, and manual stretching to alleviate muscle tension, reduce pain, and improve joint function. As well, they offer rehabilitation and exercise prescription to address your injuries, improve mobility, and enhance overall physical performance. An Athletic Therapist can work with you to develop a personalized rehabilitation program tailored to your specific needs and goals.

Registered Acupuncturists are skilled healthcare practitioners who specialize in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) techniques to promote healing and alleviate various health conditions, including injuries sustained from auto accidents. Registered Acupuncturists utilize Acupuncture, as well as other TCM modalities, to address pain, inflammation, and dysfunction associated with these injuries. Acupuncture, the primary modality used, involves the insertion of thin, sterile needles into specific acupuncture points along the body's meridians, or energy pathways. This technique helps to restore the flow of Qi, or vital energy, and stimulate the body's natural healing mechanisms. It can be beneficial for reducing pain, inflammation, and stress, as well as improving overall well-being.

Ultimately, the most appropriate therapy for you will depend on your individual condition, symptoms, and preferences. If you are unsure of which path to start with, we recommend giving our clinic a call at 250-382-7246 so we can discuss your injuries, concerns and goals and get you started in the right direction. 

Your well-being is our top priority, and we are here to support you on your journey to recovery.

Next Steps:

There's no way around it- auto accidents aren't fun. But with the right healthcare team, most people can return to their full lives and activities without needing drugs or surgery. The key is to follow the three steps of evaluation, care, and consistency. While it seems simple, following the three steps will give you the best chance to get well quickly and stay well for years to come. And if you’ve been in an auto accident, call us today!

Science Source:

  • The Effectiveness of Conservative Management for Acute Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) II: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials.PLoS One. 2015
  • Biomechanics of whiplash injury. Chinese Journal of Traumatology. 2009
  • Ligament Injury and Healing: A Review of Current Clinical Diagnostics and Therapeutics. The Open Rehabilitation Journal. 2013
  • The association between exposure to a rear-end collision and future neck or shoulder pain: a cohort study. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 2000
  • Subacromial impingement in patients with whiplash injury to the cervical spine. Journal of Orthopedic Surgery and Research. 2008