In car accidents there is a sudden mobilization of the cervical spine because we have the body secured with the seat belt and the neck is free to come out in the direction of the blow. This jerky gesture can cause injuries to ligaments, joints and muscles. They are usually “mild” injuries from the point of view that they do not compromise life and do not generate neurological complications in most cases. Regardless of the specific injury that occurs the symptoms are similar from one case to another and we will see it described under different names like cervical sprain, cervicalgia post-traumatic or whiplash syndrome.
We are going to leave aside the most serious injuries where there are important complications and whose solution corresponds to a surgical team with hospitalization in between. These may be fractures, unstable ligamentous injuries, vascular or neurological complications, and other added injuries that may accompany a high impact accident.
The most serious situations are fortunately rare in so many traffic accidents that occur daily. I’m going to talk about the cervical sprain that is so common in motorized societies. These injuries can cause a lot of pain and disability in the first few weeks but their evolution is almost always favorable in due time.
There are voices who think that this of the cervical sprain did not exist until the insurance and the indemnifications by accident appeared. There is no doubt that there are people who demand medical help after a car accident because they know that it can help them to obtain compensation. Removing these isolated cases, the cervical sprain after an accident exists and can hurt a lot. Even though it is a controversial issue, it can cause premature wear on the joints between the vertebrae.
What symptoms do we have after having a cervical sprain?
The most typical is not to notice beyond some discomfort on the day of the accident. Usually the next day when the most striking symptoms begin. The most frequent is to notice pain in the neck, sensation of rigidity, lack of mobility and muscular contractures. Sometimes these symptoms are accompanied by tingling in the arms, headache and dizziness.
The process that is occurring in our neck follows more or less this way: The sudden mobilization of the neck during the accident causes injuries in the ligaments and small joints of the cervical vertebrae. This will produce pain and are the first symptoms that we will notice. The neck muscles then react reflexively with a sustained contraction with the intention of holding the neck. The problem is that this continuous contraction exhausts the muscles and they become contractures and more pain. The muscle hardens and hurts and also limits the mobility of the neck that we will notice more rigid. Muscle contractures cause headache and can compress the exit of the nerve roots of the neck. This compression makes us notice tingling in the arms but with a good prognosis and without leaving later lesions. A different situation would be in more serious injuries where a nerve is damaged by a herniated disc, but this is not usual. Finally we would have the dizziness. There is really no consensus as to the explanation of the dizziness that occurs after a cervical sprain and there are disparate opinions in the medical world. In any case only occurs during the first weeks and practically no one has dizziness to the three months after an accident. Of the dizziness and the neck we will speak more extensively in next posts. There is really no consensus as to the explanation of the dizziness that occurs after a cervical sprain and there are disparate opinions in the medical world. In any case only occurs during the first weeks and practically no one has dizziness to the three months after an accident. Of the dizziness and the neck we will speak more extensively in next posts. There is really no consensus as to the explanation of the dizziness that occurs after a cervical sprain and there are disparate opinions in the medical world. In any case only occurs during the first weeks and practically no one has dizziness to the three months after an accident. Of the dizziness and the neck we will speak more extensively in next posts.
The most important thing to be clear about after diagnosis is that these lesions heal. By healing I mean that the symptoms refer and we return to a normal life without limitations or significant sequelae. The problem is how long it takes to heal. The reality is that the most important pain can last from 3 to 6 weeks and it is normal that the discomfort that remain will disappear the next 6 weeks. That is, at most the most significant symptoms can last 3 months. In some cases you can continue to bother even a few more months but it will not be so intense and we should not limit our daily life. The deadlines are long but we are talking about the strongest sprains. Often, in less important injuries, in 10 or 20 days the problem has been solved.
Do I have an MRI?
The most important thing after having a cervical sprain after a traffic accident is to be thoroughly scanned by your doctor and receive an appropriate follow up. With a good examination, if no complications are detected, it is not necessary to perform imaging tests such as MRI.
What treatment should I follow?
The first days after suffering a cervical sprain are aimed at relieving the pain. This is achieved with anti-inflammatory and analgesic medication. Occasionally a cervical collar is used punctually to help with the symptoms (see post in which I talk about it). During this time it is not necessary and may even be discouraged to receive manual treatment. After the first two days we can add local heat to relax the muscles and relieve discomfort. In the cervical area the application of cold is not recommended.
It is sometimes necessary to receive specific medical advice and manual treatment applied by a physiotherapist, especially when there are limitations in mobility of the neck or other deficits. The process of repairing our joints, muscles and ligaments is done by our own organism, we must put the means to help it to be so. It is important to respect the natural healing process and know that there are deadlines that have to be met. Treatments are aimed at preventing and treating complications, as well as relieving pain and other associated symptoms.
The first 2-3 weeks the main thing is to recover a normal mobility of the neck to avoid that the process extends more than necessary. In this period, especially the first and second week, massage treatments can cause a worsening of pain and a sensation of recoil. In most cases it will not be more important but it is advisable for the therapist to assess the need for such treatment techniques.
After these initial weeks, while the lesions finish healing, cervical muscle strengthening exercises are highly recommended, in addition to the mobility and stretching exercises we were already doing. After an accident there is a loss of the cervical musculature capacities that are essential to recover to avoid chronic pain.
Will I have neck problems in the future?
The cervical sprain in most people will be cured without problems or sequelae. It is highly debated whether these injuries cause us to have early osteoarthritis, that is, our joints age before due to suffering this injury. This debate is generated because in many occasions we do not see any lesion in MRI, which is the image test that more details can give us. Not seen in the current tests does not necessarily mean that there is no damage. The debate is there. In any case, having a cervical sprain is not the same as not having one. As we have said, it is most likely that there will be no sequelae of pain but the lesion “leaves a scar”. In the future it could be a more sensitive area to have injuries and make us more likely to have neck pain.
Here you can get more information in this blog great depression facts.