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Treating Neck Injuries from Car Accidents

Now that we’ve discussed common injuries resulting from car accidents, let’s look at how we treat them, starting with neck injuries.


Whiplash is a very common neck injury among those who have been in a car accident. Whiplash occurs when the ligaments and muscles in the neck are pushed beyond their normal range of motion as a result of the force from impact. Before diagnosing your condition, your doctor will perform imaging tests, including X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs to make sure your neck pain isn’t being caused by another condition.

Once you are diagnosed, your doctor will likely recommend over-the-counter pain medications first, but if those fail to help you may be prescribed painkillers or muscle relaxers to help with severe pain and muscle spasms. Icing your neck for the first two to three days after the injury is also recommended. Applying an ice pack for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours as soon as possible after the injury can help to reduce swelling.

Your doctor may also recommend neck stretches and exercises that help to strengthen the neck muscles and relieve symptoms. Once the initial swelling has gone down, you may use heat to help relax the muscles, which may make it easier for you to perform neck exercises. In the past, foam cervical collars were often recommended for whiplash, but are no longer recommended for long-term use. The collars immobilize the neck, and long-term immobilization of the neck can weaken the muscles in the neck and actually slow down recovery. However, if the pain from whiplash makes it difficult for you to sleep, a cervical collar may be recommended for use at night only. Most recover from whiplash within several months.

Herniated Disc

Although a trauma-related herniated disc is less common than a herniated disc resulting from the wear and tear of aging, it is still possible for a disc to herniate during a car accident. If there is a herniated disc in your neck, you will likely feel pain in your arm and shoulder, as herniated discs often irritate nearby spinal nerves. You may also feel a shooting pain when moving into certain positions, or when you cough or sneeze. Numbness, tingling, or weakness may also be present in the affected area.

Unless there is significant numbness or weakness, most doctors will treat a herniated disc with conservative treatment methods first. This may include over-the-counter pain medication, muscle relaxers, or nerve pain medications. If over-the-counter pain medication does not help with pain, patients may be prescribed pain medication. Cortisone injections may also be administered to help with inflammation. Physical therapy exercises and hot and cold therapy may also be helpful.

If the herniated disc causes severe dysfunction, or does not respond to nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be necessary. During the surgical procedure, all or part of the herniated disc may be removed. The surgeon may access the spine through either the front or back of the neck, depending on what is best for the patient. Once the herniated disc is removed, the two vertebrae adjacent to the disc may be fused together.


If you experience a hard blow to your head or body during a car accident, you should also be checked for a concussion. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, loss of concentration, loss of memory, blurry vision, changes in mood, and difficulty sleeping. It is important that concussions be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

The most important part of recovery from a concussion is rest and limiting activities that require mental concentration. It is important to let your brain rest and recover from the injury, and only return to normal activities when your doctor approves.

If you experience any pain or abnormal symptoms after a car accident, you should seek medical attention immediately and dial 911 at the scene of the accident. Sometimes, symptoms may not appear until hours or days later, in which case you should seek immediate medical attention. In many cases, early intervention can make a difference in your recovery time.