Should you go to the doctor after having a whiplash injury?
While car safety has improved significantly over the years, whiplash injury can still be a problem for people involved in even minor car accidents.
Today, the wide use of seatbelts has reduced the incidence of whiplash injuries. And newer cars that feature an impact protector in the headrest that allows a slow reduction in force rather than bouncing the head around have also increased car safety.
However, drivers and passengers still both face the risk of suffering a painful whiplash injury when involved in an accident. This is commonly due to the deployment of airbags.
If you do have a motor vehicle accident where the airbags have deployed, you can expect to have some neck pain. An inflated airbag can throw your head around because the forces required to deploy the airbags are significant.
Whiplash injuries can be very painful. If you’re wondering how long does whiplash last, it can take days or even weeks but usually it doesn’t require treatment. However, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out more serious spinal fractures or other damage.
If you’ve been involved in a car accident, or any other kind of accident that you think may have put you at risk of sustaining a whiplash injury, here’s what you need to do:
When should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor immediately after being involved in any car accident, even a minor one and even if you don’t feel any pain. A small proportion of whiplash injuries is due to fractures and should be appropriately investigated.
What is the treatment for whiplash injuries?
Mostly it’s a case of just wait-and-see. You need to let it settle down. It’s important not to push it too hard. You need a lot of rest, and you might be prescribed some anti-inflammatories. Most people will then get better on their own.
Should I see a chiropractor or physiotherapist?
Not without permission from your doctor. If you go and have treatment from a chiropractor or physiotherapist and they crack your neck, then you’re going to get worse. You need to wait for a couple of weeks after the injury and let yourself heal naturally.
Will I need to take time off work?
Yes. Usually you will need a week or two off work after a significant neck injury because sitting for long periods of time may make it worse.
How long will it take to heal?
Even if it’s just a whiplash injury where there’s no direct spinal instability or other problem that requires medical treatment, it can often still take a long time to get better. Patience is the key. Take any medication that your doctor has prescribed and follow their treatment plan. If you push it too hard, too soon—or try to go back to work too early—then you’ll only extend your recovery time.
Dr Parkinson is a highly qualified neurosurgeon with extensive experience in neurosurgery. He has studied under, and worked with leading neurosurgeons in the USA performing ground breaking surgeries. He is also involved in developing educational tools for both surgeons and patients.