What should I do if I get whiplash from a car accident?

During the weekend a car slammed into the back of our car leaving me with a painful whiplash injury. My head feels two sizes too large, my eyes and ears feel sore, and although the doctor has given me a painkiller I am worried about trouble in the future.

Whiplash injuries to the muscles of the neck and shoulders are common following car accidents of this nature. As the name implies, the head rebounds rather like the end of a whip when cracked.

This produces a sudden tearing of the muscle fibers of the neck region. Overstretched, and actually torn, maybe with some hemorrhages into the spaces between them, the parts inevitably become very painful in the days immediately following the accident.

This may persist for some weeks. Cold weather may aggravate it, for this tends to reduce general peripheral circulation. Fresh blood brings food, vitamins, and oxygen, and these are all vital to repairing damaged tissues.

There may be some brain bruising as well. Indeed, it is difficult to remember what actually takes place in any sort of car accident as everything happens so quickly and unexpectedly.

Cerebral contusions (bruising) can produce headaches which may also persist for some time. This could be responsible for the discomfort you notice in the eyes and ears.

However, if these persist for more than a few days, a proper check from the respective specialists would be advisable.

As far as the neck is concerned, heat in all forms often brings comforting relief. Hot packs, alternate hot and cold applications, a hot water bag at night (old fashioned but it works) are all good.

Linaments were popular once but seem to have fallen from favor with younger doctors, although the older ones often prescribe them. They produce local heat which is often beneficial and gives a pleasant sensation. Balms and creams have a similar function. (Keep linaments out of the way of tiny children for many of them are poisonous if taken internally).

Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed. Simple aspirin or paracetamol gives relief from pain too, but more potent tablets may be used if the simpler forms are not successful in reducing symptoms.

Physiotherapy too could bring rapid relief. This includes heat applied in various forms, and possibly massage. Microwave, ultrasonic and short wave diathermy are often very comforting.

Sometimes spinal manipulation can assist when simple measures do not seem successful. But after any sort of car injury, most doctors prefer to have a neck x-ray before resorting to manipulation.

Many doctors suggest it is better to keep the muscles warm and moving, rather than let them get cold and inert. But others advise the reverse, which indicates it probably does not really matter. Nature is the best healer. Physicians and physiotherapists merely help nature along.

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