Neck pain can be inescapable and debilitating, especially if it’s been caused by an accident that has severely strained, stretched, or torn the muscles and tendons in the neck.

This type of neck pain is also commonly known as whiplash. Most of the time, whiplash can be caused by almost any type of accident that includes a strong impact or blow to the head, causing major neck strain.

But how do you differentiate between regular neck strain and whiplash pain? Learn more about the symptoms of whiplash and treatment options in this blog.

The Difference Between Neck Strain and Neck Sprain

While the symptoms of these two types of neck injuries tend to overlap, neck strain and neck sprain are actually quite different. Most amateur and professional athletes tend to suffer from some form of neck strain, which is characterized by damage to the muscle or tendons connecting the muscle to the bone in your neck.

Whiplash also falls into this category and is most commonly the result of a car accident, for which you can claim compensation. Learn more about how a catastrophic injury attorney can help your case.

Neck sprains are a little more common among the population and can result from postural issues and long-term neck tension, sports injuries, physical abuse, and more. Neck sprain is caused by a tear in the ligaments of the neck.

Treatment for both of these types of neck injuries is much the same.

Understanding Whiplash Pain and Other Symptoms

Whiplash usually develops in one of two ways. In the moments immediately after an accident you may not feel or notice any pain at all. Only a few hours or even days later will neck pain begin to appear.

Alternatively, whiplash pain can also be felt instantly, immediately affecting you just after an accident takes place. Either way, whiplash pain is difficult to ignore and will present itself with the following symptoms:

  • A debilitating pain that affects the range-of-motion in your neck i.e. you may not be able to look over your shoulder
  • A feeling of hard or knotted muscles in your neck and shoulders
  • Sharp pain when moving your head from one side to another
  • An overwhelming feeling of stiffness in your neck and shoulders
  • Persistent headaches that start at the base of your skull, with pain that move towards your forehead

In conjunction with whiplash, you may also experience a concussion, depending on the severity of the blow to your head or neck. If you experience any of the symptoms of concussion, make sure to see a doctor right away. These include an overpowering headache that keeps growing, trouble articulating yourself, feeling confused, dizziness, or feeling very sleepy.

Who’s At Greater Risk of Whiplash?

Some people may be more susceptible to the effects of whiplash in an accident. Some common risk factors include:

  • If you are in a rear-end car accident
  • If your car is hit by another car while standing still
  • If you are a woman of a younger age
  • If you have a history of neck pain
  • If you already struggle with neck stiffness

Bear in mind that muscle sprains and associated pain and stiffness tend to pass within a few days. But if your neck pain is debilitating and lasts longer than three months, you are suffering from whiplash. It’s highly likely that your neck pain could turn into chronic pain due to the following:

  • You experience severe pain immediately after the accident
  • The pain extends to your extremities and includes numbness and tingling
  • You have experienced neurological issues including a concussion or memory loss

This is why it’s so important to visit a doctor and a chiropractor to begin treatment for your neck pain as soon as you notice it.

What Are the Best Treatments For Whiplash?

The good news is that whiplash pain does not have to haunt you for a lifetime. Given enough time and treatment, it will heal on its own and you will have full mobility of your neck once again. In order to help with whiplash recovery, these are the best treatment recommendations:

1. Apply Ice or Heat to the Neck

Immediately following your accident, make sure to ice your neck area to reduce swelling. Try and ice the painful area(s) for 15-minutes, every 3-4 hours. Do this for 2-3 days following your accident.

Once the inflammation in your neck has settled, you can use moist heat as a form of pain and tension relief. Use a warm wet towel and wrap it around your neck, or taking a bath is a simple, relaxing solution, too.

2. Muscle Relaxation Medication

This is only a temporary solution for pain relief as these types of medications should never be taken long-term. But a muscle relaxant, as prescribed by your doctor, will offer relief from tight, painful muscle tension in the neck.

If you are set to receive physical therapy on your neck, but find it too painful to move, ask your doctor about pain relief injections such as lidocaine (Xylocaine). This is a numbing medication that is injected into the most painful points of your neck that allows you to undergo physical therapy and manipulations of the neck.

3. Physical Therapy

If your whiplash pain is very debilitating, in that you cannot move your neck and it is restricting your day-to-day actions, you must seek physical therapy.

A physical therapist will work with you and recommend certain range-of-motion exercises to limber up the tight muscles. They will also prescribe certain exercises that strengthen the neck muscles in order to restore full movement of the neck.

Physical therapists also offer tension relief massage and may use a technique known as TENS to offer pain relief. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses mild, electric currents to stimulate the muscles in the neck to get them to relax and strengthen themselves.

A physical therapist will also formulate a recovery plan that you can carry out at home in order to provide some form of pain relief and relieve tension.

4. A Supportive Foam Collar

If your neck injury is severe enough, your doctor may recommend that you wear a foam collar to allow the neck muscles and tendons to repair themselves. Essentially, a neck collar holds the head and neck still, without interfering too much with the healing process.

This being said, it’s not recommended that you wear a neck collar for an extended period of time as this can cause the neck muscles to decrease in strength. This could only exacerbate the injury and your pain. You’ll most likely be advised to wear a neck collar for a few hours a day, over a period of weeks, immediately after your accident.

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Whiplash pain is intense, but it’s not a life sentence. With enough time, rest, and therapy your body will heal itself and you’ll start to feel like yourself again.

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