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What to do immediately after a car accident

Posted on April 18th, 2017 by Dr. Gloria Adkins

Patients come into my West Seattle clinic anytime from the same day to weeks after getting in a car accident.  Sometimes they’ve been to an Emergency Room and may be on medications.  Their symptoms are worsening, and it is common for them to have a substantial amount of swelling in the neck and low back.  They cannot turn their heads or bend forward, and all movements are painful.  It is common for symptoms to continue to get worse after a whiplash injury for several weeks, and doing nothing makes this even more so.  Medications may or may not temporarily relieve symptoms, but they do nothing to help the structures actually heal.

Whiplash occurs after a car accident, but can also be caused by any impact that causes your head to jerk suddenly in any direction.  The rapid force overstretches, sometimes tearing the ligaments and muscle tendons in the neck.

Whiplash injuries from auto accidents can cause more serious injuries such as torn ligaments, nerve damage, blood vessel damage, spinal fractures, and joint and disk damage.  If you feel pain immediately after the accident go to an Emergency Room. If you have any changes in vision or speech, a headache that persists or gets worse, nausea, sleepiness or if you were unconscious, you should immediately go to an Emergency Room.  If there’s not much pain initially, you should seek care within 1 to 2 days of the accident.  It may take a few hours or even overnight for the symptoms to start.  Pain, stiffness, limited range of motion and swelling are very common.  Burning or tingling, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and arm or leg pain or numbness may also occur.  Shoulder and abdominal injuries may be present from the seat belt.

As soon as possible ice your neck.  This is most effective if you roll up a hand towel, lay with it placed under the ice pack, which should be big enough to cover the back and sides of your neck.  Do this for up to 15 minutes, every 1-3 hours.  A hot water bottle on the feet is helpful in drawing the inflammation out of the area, and also comforting.  Also resting and drinking plenty of water for the first few days is a good idea, and over the counter pain medications to make the pain bearable can also help.

Cervical collars, unless there is a very serious injury that requires immobilization, may not be the best way to go, especially for more than a few days.  Immobilization can slow the healing process and cause muscle weakness.

Schedule with me, a Chiropractic Physician within 1 to 2 days of the accident. Waiting to get checked and seek care will make the healing process more difficult, prolong the pain and suffering, and even cause more long term problems.

Chiropractic care is the best option for this injury because we specialize in restoring joint and nerve function.  A full examination will be performed and documented immediately before any care is recommended, and is a big help in dealing with insurance companies.  X-rays, CTs, MRIs or other specialized tests may also be required to make an accurate and thorough diagnosis.

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