Neck Pain After an Accident Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You Have Whiplash?

Oct 12, 2021

After a car accident, neck pain is an extremely common symptom. This can often be attributed to whiplash, and many people will brush their aches and pains off as “just” whiplash. However, neck pain can actually be a sign of severe injuries resulting from your accident. While you should always seek neck pain treatment for these symptoms, it’s important to be able to spot the signs of these other serious problems.

When It’s “Just” Whiplash

The first thing to know is that whiplash can be a serious problem on its own. When untreated, whiplash can become a chronic problem or cause damage to tissues surrounding your neck and shoulder. Even if you do think whiplash is your only injury, early neck pain treatment will be critical to your recovery.

In addition to neck pain, the other main sign of whiplash is stiffness in your neck, loss of mobility, and pain when you move your neck. Headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea may also indicate whiplash has occurred, as well as tenderness in the surrounding areas and tingling or numbness in your arms.

Whiplash can’t be seen on most diagnostic scans, so monitoring symptoms is critical and best done by a chiropractor specializing in auto injuries.

Other Possible Conditions

Whiplash is so common because of the vulnerability of the spine, head, and shoulders during the impact of a car crash, which is why other forms of damage are very likely as well.

Herniated or Slipped Discs

Between your vertebrae are jelly-like discs that act as shock absorbers, allowing your spine to move easily. A collision can force these discs out of place, allowing their soft insides to push against their hard exterior, causing bulges and ruptures. The herniation itself may be painful, but when these bulges or ruptures pinch the surrounding nerves or crowd them out, this can cause severe pain in the surrounding area. Discs that are herniated in the cervical spine will cause pain in the neck, as well as arm weakness, numbness and tingling, and pain that travels down your arm.

Cervical Spondylolisthesis

In this condition, at least one vertebra becomes dislocated and out of alignment with the rest of your spine. This is usually a result of aging, and many people have mild spondylolisthesis without ever realizing it. However, a trauma like an accident can cause a sudden dislocation, especially in the neck. When this happens, you may notice pain in your shoulder, the back of your head, and your neck, as well as numbness and weakness in the arms.

Severe cases of spondylolisthesis may require surgery and a neck brace to maintain alignment.

Compression and Spinal Fractures

The most common type of vertebral spine fracture is a compression fracture, which usually requires a lot of force, such as a car crash. When this force is strong enough, it can shatter or compress the vertebra and potentially send bone fragments into the spinal canal.

These fractures happen most often in the mid and low back, but they can also happen in the neck. In addition to pain, you may notice numbness or weakness in the arms as well. Depending on the complexity, this may require braces or surgery to repair.

When to See a Doctor About Neck Pain

You should always visit a doctor after a car crash, whether you are experiencing neck pain or not. Not only can they rule out serious injuries, but they may be able to identify injuries before you even begin to display symptoms. This gives you a head start on recovery as well as creating documentation for your insurance company to review during the claims process.

Many neck conditions will take time to develop fully. For example, even if you herniate a disc at the moment of a crash, you may not notice the radiating pain for days. In that time period, your condition could be worsening and causing other related problems.

If you experience any neck discomfort, it’s always a good idea to seek treatment, even if you think it will go away on its own. You will always want to share details of the accident with your doctor so they can properly diagnose the cause of your pain.

At AICA Marietta, we specialize in injuries caused by car accidents, including whiplash. Our team will be able to quickly identify the cause of your pain and begin a personalized treatment plan, so don’t hesitate to make your first appointment today.