Neck pain from car accident: now what?
October 5, 2007 7:06 AM   Subscribe

I got rear-ended yesterday and now my neck hurts. What's the best way to proceed?

I know others have been in this situation before, so I'm looking for recommendations, warnings, etc. Never having had neck pain before, I'm trying to decide first if I should go to an MD, and if so, which kind, or a chiropractor, which I've never been to. I live just north of Austin, TX, so if you have a particular recommendation, that would also be swell.
posted by vraxoin to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Having been rear-ended several times, my experience is that the pain almost always comes the next day. I've usually been able to combat it with ibuprofen and a heating pad, though my neck has usually been stiff for a day or two afterwards.

If it felt...unnaturally painful (if you get my drift - more than simple muscle stiffness), I'd probably head to my GP or local walk-in clinic. I've only ever seen orthopedists for joint injuries and fractures, so I'm not sure if this sort pain is in their area, but that might be another venue for you.
posted by jquinby at 7:31 AM on October 5, 2007

Start at your general practitioner. Make sure they know you're there as a result of a motor vehicle accident - there will probably be forms you have to fill out with auto insurance details of the parties involved.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:33 AM on October 5, 2007

I'd go to a GP first. He should probably x-ray you for hairline fractures.

Under your doctor's supervision do the yoga dog and cat position daily.

This is what finally helped me after seeing many doctors. (Got the advice from a rolfer.)
posted by cda at 7:39 AM on October 5, 2007

Physical Terrorist
in that order.
posted by caddis at 7:50 AM on October 5, 2007

My whiplash showed up two weeks later while lifting weights, and I was told by my GP (who is a DO, not an MD) that whiplash often shows up later. He kept my neck straight with adjustments, and I had to use a heating pad almost constantly to keep from crying like a bitch.

Def. go to your GP or, if you don't have a regular GP, go to a GP that is a DO in your plan.
posted by notsnot at 7:56 AM on October 5, 2007

Go to your GP, and keep notes as to when, especially if you plan on filing a suit.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:10 AM on October 5, 2007

When I was rear-ended I called my GP and she said I should get to an ER to establish a paper trail in case the other drivers insurance tried to screw me.

My treatment was a max dose of ibuprophen for two weeks, plus a muscle relaxant for a week or so and cold compresses.
If you didnt injure a disk or vertabrae, then you propbably just have inflamation and strain to deal with. The ER didn't make clear to me that recovering from that was a two week process. That, combined with me not giving the drugs enough credit led me to start curtailing my meds after a couple of days until I realized that I was feeling worse as a result.

Go to a doc, get checked out. Consider seeking a little massage as part of the treatment/recovery if its just muscle strain.
posted by Good Brain at 8:51 AM on October 5, 2007

For the physical discomfort, def go with the ibuprophen. I've had this happen three times over the last 25 years and what aided recovery quickest for me was finding someone that did cranial sacral work -- a very subtle form of releasing shock from the body by working with the spinal fluid. This helps things realign naturally. I'd done the physical therapy, the chiropractic, the massage and cranial sacral had the most impact (sorry for the pun) for me.
posted by zenpop at 9:07 AM on October 5, 2007

Good advice so far. Let me add the following (gleaned from an accident in which an ex-GF was rear-ended):

1) Do not underestimate the damage that has been done, or the time it takes for you to heal. In a rear-end collision, even a low-speed one, there is the possibility that the full extent of injuries will take weeks to become evident. My GF was hit by a driver who was only going about 20 MPG, but still had a bad case of whiplash and pain and back problems that lingered for months, led to missed days of work, and required several forms of therapy. I do not mean to alarm you, but just be cognizant that your minor neck pain now may persist for quite some time.

2) For this reason, do not settle with your insurance company prematurely. The insurance company may try to settle as quickly as possible, probably by offering a lump sum that sounds like a nice big number but may not actually cover all of the eventual costs. Don't be tempted. Wait until you have a good idea of what all of your expenses are before signing a final settlement (I do hope you haven't done so already), even if it takes months to do so.

3) Document everything. This includes all medical expenses, specific details about your pain (e.g., a diary), and missed time from work. Documenting things indicates the seriousness of your eventual insurance claim, and strengthens your position.

I hope that your case is minor and none of this will apply to you, but some thinks to think about just in case. Good luck!
posted by googly at 9:09 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar situation about 10 years ago. It took 2-3 days for the full extent of the pain to come through. Whilst I felt fine after a few days of ibuprofen I would occasionally be reminded by recurring pains and stiffness for many weeks to come.

So go to your doctor to make sure it is nothing more than muscle strain...

And be prepared to explore a range of measures to fully recover like stretches, manipulation and massages...
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:47 AM on October 5, 2007

Data on MVA's suggests that myofascial injuries ('whiplash' if you live in the USA, since it's not recognized elsewhere as a condition) take 3 months to heal. Data seems to support whatever the patient wants to do - GP, chiro, PT, accupunture, burning sage, etc.

See your doc and discuss.

My bias (besides the above counsel) is to assist w/ a good night's sleep and pain control. YMMV. Good luck.
posted by docpops at 11:01 AM on October 5, 2007

If you want a doc to relieve the pain--try an osteopathic (DO) doctor first. Fully licensed in medicine and all, but we also perform manipulations which is the backbone of our education and foundation of our skill. Pick up the yellow pages, they'll be under physicians.
posted by uncballzer at 11:45 AM on October 5, 2007

I second what googly said -- strongly. I've been through it and it can take a while to get better. Not always, but sometimes it does.

Also, the treatment you have can have an impact on your recovery, both positive and negative. The treatment I had was partially helpful, but in the long run it turned out that some of the advice I was given was probably wrong and caused the recovery to stretch out much longer than it should have.

(Long story, but physical therapy and general exercise should have been a stronger part of the regimen, I think. Telling me to rest the painful parts and take more meds actually gradually caused my pain threshold to drop, making the condition worse over a longer period of time -- several years, so instead I should have been doing something to keep more active even if I couldn't turn my head fully and was feeling a lot of pain. My recovery came when I figured that out and started an exercise program that I enjoyed. Once I did that, my pain threshold rose and I started feeling better really quickly. I still can't turn my head as far as I used to, but I am generally pain-free now and feel normal. I think I could have recovered a lot sooner if we had realized this, but of course it's all hindsight. )

Do what the doctors tell you, but if it seems to be going on longer than the 3 months docpops mentioned, it could mean that you need to try something else and seek a second opinion. And stay active, though of course you should be careful not to aggravate your neck and back.
posted by litlnemo at 3:37 PM on October 5, 2007

Oh, and don't let anyone try to tell you that your pain isn't real. Insurance companies, and the supposed "independent examination" doctors they send you to, love to do that, and then pressure you to settle. In my case one doctor I was sent to did a clearly fraudulent exam. That was the point when I had to contact a lawyer, unfortunately.

If you have pain, you have pain. Trust your own feelings on this and don't let them mess with your head.

You also asked about whether you should see a chiropractor -- you will probably get some mixed responses on that. I have seen some that were actually pretty good, and some others seem to be complete quacks (the ones who believe chiro can cure everything from acne to the plague). You might get some help out of the occasional chiro visit, as long as you are seeing one of the reputable ones. But when they start telling you you need to come in every day or every other day for a few weeks, be suspicious of that. I don't think that's generally needed for recovery. (Then again, I am not a DC, or MD, so take this with a grain of salt.)
posted by litlnemo at 3:48 PM on October 5, 2007

1) Lawyer

Ask the lawyer to recommend a doctor.
posted by Avenger at 11:27 PM on October 5, 2007

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