Because of the heavy weight of the vehicles involved in auto accidents, the forces that are generated from the impact can be significant, even in low speed accidents. A properly positioned head rest and use of a seat belt can significantly reduce injury, particularly in rear end collisions. Head injuries during an accident can greatly amplify damage to neck structures.
If you have pre-existing cervical spinal arthritis, stenosis, narrowed spinal cord canal, or unhealed prior injuries, then you are at more risk to develop long term pain, stiffness or even disability from a whiplash injury.
Whiplash symptoms may begin immediately following the accident, hours or days later, and in some instances months later – particularly headache problems. The following symptoms are common following a whiplash injury.
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Headaches, most commonly at the base of the skull
- Blurred vision
Some people also experience:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
- Ringing in the ears
- Sleep disturbances
Early treatment is imperative for auto injuries because scar tissue development within damaged soft tissues begins to form within 12 hours after the injury occurs! Helping to control the scar tissue formation is important to reduce the chances of long term pain problems. Reducing inflammation of the damaged tissues is important, so icing the injured area for 15-20 minutes several times a day for the first several days following the injury is usually beneficial. Contrary to the advice of many of your well-meaning emergency room doctors, friends and work colleagues – never apply heat to a fresh soft tissue injury. Heat increases local circulation and will rapidly increase inflammation and scar tissue formation (which can over-develop and cause many long term pain issues). Heat may be employed later in the healing process and is often employed during physical therapy or chiropractic treatments
Some whiplash injuries are minor and will resolve themselves within a few days or weeks with rest. In many cases physical therapy, chiropractic and/or massage therapy may be needed. Sometimes, unfortunately, the pain does not resolve with conservative care and the next level of care – Pain Management – is required.
The following treatment options are frequently sought after to help relieve difficult auto injury pain:
- Facet Injection. The capsule that surrounds the moveable facet joints is often stretched or damaged by compressive forces during a whiplash injury. An injection to the medial nerve branch that innervates the joint capsule can help reduce inflammation, raise pain thresholds of the injured joint and help break the pain cycle.
- Radiofrequency Ablation. Painful spinal facet joints from auto accident injuries often get rapid relief following a facet injection. Once your Novocur pain doctor has identified the facet joint as the source of your pain through a diagnostic facet injection, then a longer lasting pain relief can be obtained through treating the same tissue with Radiofrequency Ablation. A heat lesion around the medial branch nerve is created using radiofrequency technology. This heat treatment helps to break the pain cycle and prevent pain signals from being transmitted from the injured joints to the brain.
- Trigger Point Injections. Often muscles are stretched or torn during auto accidents. Sometimes the scar tissue formation that is necessary to heal these injuries does not allow for proper “cleansing” of the muscle tissue from metabolic waste products that develop during the normal burning of energy during muscle contraction (i.e. lactic acid, bradykinins). These waste produces are not flushed out of the muscle properly and instead continuously bathe the muscle with their irritating chemical properties. An injection of a corticosteroid and/or anesthetic into these sites of irritation can help to reduce the local inflammation so the body’s natural healing mechanisms can perform their jobs.
- Epidural Injection. Whiplash injuries can lead to damage to spinal discs and to the nerve roots that exit the spine directly behind those discs. An epidural injection of a corticosteroid mixed with an anesthetic may be performed to bring rapid pain relief to painful discs and nerves.
- Pharmacological Intervention. NSAID’s, prescription pain killers, muscle relaxers and nerve pain medications are commonly employed in the treatment of auto accident injury pain.
- Sympathetic Nerve Blocks. Rarely, a progressive pain condition called CRPS or RSD can develop following auto accident injury. An injection of medication into nerve ganglions near the spine can help reduce these painful symptoms.