Neck injuries are unfortunately all too common during auto accidents. The jarring movement that occurs as a result of a sudden halt can subject your neck to a number of different injuries. Identifying the extent of your neck injuries is important to receive the right medical attention immediately following the accident as well as ongoing treatment that will prevent your injuries from becoming chronic conditions.
Causes of Neck Injuries in Auto Accidents
As you drive down the road, your body moves with the speed of the car. The collision of a car accident can bring the car to an immediate halt, however, only part of your body is strapped into a seatbelt. The rest of your body, especially your head and neck, will still be traveling at the same speed of the car at the time of accident. Airbags can only do so much to protect against the thrashing your body experiences during an auto accident.
From the thrashing, to the impact with the airbag, dashboard or any flying debris, your neck will experience a great deal of torque and pressure during a car wreck. This pressure can compromise the muscles, tendons and bone tissue within the neck, which leads to a number of different neck injuries.
Types of Neck Injuries from Car Accidents
Strain - A strain occurs when muscle and/or tendon fibers are stretched or torn. Strains are frequently caused by sudden and severe extension of the fibers.
Sprain - When a ligament become stretched or torn, it is known as a sprain. Ligaments are only so resilient, especially when they have not undergone proper warming up. This means that the sudden and unexpected twisting and stretching that result from a car accident can lead to painful ligament sprains.
Stinger or burner/ pinched nerve - Violent impacts to the neck can give the spine a temporary jolt. This pressure can affect the nerve root, which can send a stinging, burning sensation throughout the impacted area or down one arm. Effects typically only last a moment, but if they persist, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Neck fracture - The impact trauma of a car accident can result in broken bones along the cervical spine or a neck fracture. Fractures can be clean and simple or complex.
Dislocation - A car accident can compromise the neck to the point of shifting the cervical bones within the neck, leading to an uncomfortable and risky dislocation.
Diagnosing Neck Injuries
Recollecting the precise details of an auto accident can be nearly impossible for victims. Identifying what exactly may be causing your neck pain is one of a hundred things that could be going through your mind after a car wreck. Your neck is likely not the only part of you that's hurting. Therefore, going to a medical specialist is critical in order to identify what injuries you may have sustained and how severe they are. A proper diagnosis allows for the best possible treatment route to begin without complications.
Meeting with a PCP, chiropractor, orthopedist or neurologist to go over the incident, your medical history and your current symptoms is the first step in diagnosing your neck injury. The medical provider will likely perform a physical examination to pinpoint particular muscles and tendons that are in pain, stiff or weak. More severe neck injuries may require an X-ray, CT scan or MRI.
Neck Injury Treatment and Recovery
Neck injuries can be extremely uncomfortable and frustrating. Even minor aches and pains can be persistent and easily exacerbated simply by your day-to-day activities such as monitoring traffic around you as you drive.
Emergency treatments - Taking a trip to the ER is likely the best option for car accident victims. Allowing unforeseen issues to lay undiagnosed and untreated through the night or over the next few days following an accident can be risky. ER doctors can help stabilize the neck and provide pivotal corrections to the spine if needed. Any compound fractures or open wounds can be operated on to limit complications. Pain medications, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics will be provided as needed.
Traction - Traction is the process of realigning the spine. This can either be done manually or mechanically utilizing devices. For significant dislocations and misalignments, traction can be conducted in the ER to help stabilize the spine and prevent further complications. For less severe misalignments, you can work with an orthopedist or chiropractor to correct spine health over a series of a few treatments.
Rest - Whether your neck injury required surgery or other treatments to improve your condition, rest is a key part of the treatment/recovery process. Most of the actual healing from your neck injury simply requires your body to return to its natural state. So, while steps like sleep, ice, elevation and compression will actively help heal your body, it's also important to focus on avoiding activities or scenarios that could re-injure your neck. Take the time to heal properly to avoid having your condition become chronic.
Work with local medical providers such as your PCP, chiropractors, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and massage therapists to help manage your symptoms and treat your neck injuries.