As you recover from injuries sustained in a car accident, one of the questions you may have is how long the neck pain will last. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as each person heals differently based on factors like age, overall health, severity of the injury, and treatment. However, most people experience neck pain for at least a few weeks up to several months following a car accident. The good news is there are treatments available to help manage your pain, and in many cases, neck pain from a car accident will improve over time. A qualified car accident attorney and law firm can be instrumental in your legal claim for recovery.
The Severity of Your Neck Injury Determines Recovery Time
The severity and type of neck injury you sustain in a car accident will determine how long your pain and recovery may last. Minor neck strains typically heal within a few days to weeks, while more serious injuries can take months of rehabilitation and treatment.
One of the most common neck injuries from car accidents is whiplash. This occurs when the head is violently jerked back and forth, causing damage to the soft tissues in the neck. Recovery from whiplash can take 2 to 6 weeks for minor cases, up to 3 months for moderate cases, and 6 months to over a year for severe whiplash with muscle strains or tears. You will likely need physical therapy, pain medication, neck braces or collars, and time for the inflammation to subside.
Damage to the muscles or tendons in the neck from the force of impact will also lead to pain that persists for some time. Minor muscle strains may heal within a week with rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers. More severe muscle tears can take 6 to 12 weeks to recover with physical therapy and bracing for support and stability.
In severe collisions, the force can be enough to rupture or bulge one of the intervertebral disks in the spine that provide cushioning between vertebrae. A herniated disk in the neck causes pain, numbness or weakness in the arms, shoulders, and fingers. Recovery can take months to years and often requires anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, steroid injections, or in persistent cases, neck surgery to repair or remove the damaged disk.
Soft Tissue Neck Injuries: Whiplash and Strains
Soft tissue injuries like whiplash and neck strains are common after a car accident and can cause pain that lasts for weeks or months. Whiplash, or cervical strain, occurs when the neck is forcefully and quickly thrust backward and forward, straining the surrounding muscles and ligaments. Neck strains are overstretches or tears of the muscles and tendons in the neck.
The severity of a soft tissue neck injury determines how long pain may persist. Mild to moderate whiplash or a minor neck strain typically heals within a few weeks to a couple of months. More severe injuries can cause chronic pain that continues for 6 months or longer. The neck pain may come and go or be constant during this recovery period.
To help relieve discomfort from soft tissue neck injuries, apply ice for 10-15 minutes several times a day to reduce inflammation. Use an over-the-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen to ease pain and make neck movements more comfortable. Gently massage the neck muscles or see a physical therapist for targeted neck stretches and exercises.
Rest Is Important
Resting the neck helps soft tissue injuries heal. Avoid activities that aggravate your pain. Use good posture, a cervical collar or neck brace for extra support if needed. When sitting or lying down, place a pillow under your neck for optimum alignment and comfort.
With rest and the proper self-care, most people recover from minor to moderate soft tissue neck injuries within 2 to 3 months after a car accident. However, see a doctor right away for severe neck pain or symptoms like numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms or legs which can indicate a more serious neck injury.
Nerve Damage or Disk Injuries May Cause Longer-Lasting Neck Pain
Neck pain from a car accident can often last for weeks or months. In some cases, the pain may become chronic if the underlying cause is left untreated. Two of the most common causes of prolonged neck pain after an accident are:
The impact from a collision can compress or pinch spinal nerves in the neck, leading to sharp pain, numbness, and weakness. Pinched nerve pain tends to radiate down one arm. If nerve pain persists for more than a few days, it's best to see a doctor. They may order tests like an MRI or nerve conduction study to determine if there is nerve damage. Treatment may include physical therapy, medication, or in severe cases, surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve.
The force of a car accident can rupture or herniate one or more disks in the cervical spine. A herniated disk pushes into the spinal canal, putting pressure on nerves. This can cause severe neck pain, headaches, pain in the shoulder or arm, and muscle spasms. As with nerve damage, if disk pain is severe or does not start to improve within a week, see a doctor. They can properly diagnose a herniated disk using imaging tests and physical exam findings. Treatment options include rest, physical therapy, medication, epidural steroid injections, and in persistent cases, spine surgery.
The recovery time for these types of injuries varies significantly based on severity. While initial pain may subside within a month, it can take 3-6 months of treatment and therapy to heal nerve or disk damage. In some cases, there may be permanent loss of range of motion or flexibility. The best way to avoid long-lasting pain is to get proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible after an auto accident. Early intervention gives you the best chance of recovering fully and avoiding chronic neck discomfort.
Seeking Medical Treatment Right Away Is Key
Seeking medical attention immediately following a car accident is critical to properly diagnose and treat any neck injuries. The sooner you get evaluated by a doctor, the sooner you can start treatment and begin the recovery process.
Seek Emergency Care for Severe Neck Pain
If you experience severe neck pain, numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, or difficulty breathing after an accident, call 911 for emergency assistance immediately. These can be signs of a spinal cord injury and require urgent evaluation and treatment.
Even if your symptoms seem minor, it is still important to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible after an accident. Whiplash and other soft tissue neck injuries may not cause symptoms until hours or days later. Early diagnosis and treatment give you the best chance for a quick and full recovery.
Your doctor may order imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans or MRIs to check for muscle strains, pinched nerves or vertebral fractures. They can then determine an appropriate treatment plan, which may include:
•Neck immobilization: Using a rigid neck collar or brace to stabilize the neck.
•Pain medication: To reduce pain and make movement and physical therapy easier.
•Physical therapy: Gentle neck exercises and stretches to restore range of motion, increase flexibility and strength.
•Chiropractic care: Spinal manipulation and massage to relieve pressure on nerves and restore proper alignment.
•Other options: Occipital nerve blocks, trigger point injections, massage therapy or acupuncture may provide relief for chronic neck pain.
The recovery process can take weeks or months, depending on the severity of your injuries. But with prompt medical care, appropriate treatment, rest, and time, most people fully recover from neck pain after a car accident. However, some may experience recurring or long-term issues and require additional treatment and lifestyle modifications.
Steps You Can Take to Relieve Neck Pain From a Car Accident
To relieve neck pain from a car accident, there are several steps you can take:
Resting your neck is one of the best ways to relieve pain and promote healing. Limit activities that aggravate your symptoms. Use pillows to support your neck while sleeping and sitting. Ice your neck for 15-20 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day to reduce inflammation.
After 48 hours, apply heat to relax tense neck muscles. Use a heating pad on the lowest setting or take a warm shower directing the water to your neck. Do this 15-20 minutes at a time, a few times per day.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can help with neck pain. Acetaminophen is also an option. These OTC drugs reduce pain and swelling. Follow the dosage instructions and talk to your doctor about prescription medication if your pain is severe.
Once pain starts to improve, gentle neck stretches can help restore range of motion and flexibility. Slowly roll your head side to side, or tilt your head to one side bringing your ear towards your shoulder. You can also do chin tucks by pulling your chin back towards your neck. Start with holding each stretch for 15 seconds and build up as tolerated.
See a Doctor
If your neck pain is severe or does not start to improve within a week, see your doctor. They may order imaging tests or refer you to a specialist if needed. Physical therapy, massage therapy or acupuncture may help reduce chronic neck pain. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended to repair damage.
By following these steps, most individuals will experience significant relief and recovery from neck pain due to a motor vehicle accident within 2 to 4 weeks. However, some pain may persist for 3 months or longer, especially if there are underlying conditions like whiplash or muscle strains. With time and proper treatment, the majority of people can eliminate or manage any long-term neck issues from an auto injury.
Call Fletcher Law For Help With Your Car Accident Injury Claim
If you have suffered neck injuries in a car accident, the recovery process can be frustrating and painful. The severity and type of neck injury will determine how long symptoms may last. Soft tissue injuries like whiplash can heal within a few weeks to months, while more serious injuries may require physical therapy, medication, or in severe cases, even surgery.
In many cases, rest, icing the injury, physical therapy or bracing may help relieve neck pain and speed healing. However, if pain persists for more than a few months, it's best to consult with a doctor. They can properly assess your injuries, determine if further testing like an MRI is needed, and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
Don't hesitate to call the car accident injury lawyers at Fletcher Law for guidance on next steps in your recovery and claim process. Our team has helped many clients in the greater Houston area recover damages related to whiplash, herniated disks, pinched nerves and other serious neck injuries from car accidents. We understand how difficult this time can be and will walk you through your options for seeking compensation from insurance companies to cover medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering.
The most important thing is focusing on your health. But we also want to make sure you are fairly compensated. Call us today for a free consultation - we don't collect any fees unless we win your case. Our experienced team of car accident lawyers will stand by your side and fight to get you the maximum settlement you deserve.
Let us help take the burden off your shoulders so you can concentrate on recovering from your injuries. Call Fletcher Law or visit our website We're here to help.