Neck Pain after a car accident

When to receive care for neck pain after a car accident.

I never thought I would be so passionate about neck pain after a car accident.  I have never been in a severe car accident.

But my years in practice I have seen the devastation a car accident can have on the neck, better known in medical terms as the cervical spine.  I have helped countless patient’s get back to their lives and full function.

My patient base in Long Beach, CA, commonly deal with major traffic issues and aggressive driving. This means our local population are often effected by an motor vehicle accidents devastating effects.

Many times even the most minor “fender bender” can severely damage neck tissue.

The car might not have excessive damage, but with the velocity of impact of even 10 m.p.h the neck can have a very dramatic whiplash effect put upon it.

When to get help.

The North American Spine Society reports that after a motor vehicle accident there will be trauma to the joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons of the neck.

Many injuries will repair on their own over the course of four to six weeks.

If you still have pain this is when to seek conservative care.

Who should I see?:

Dr Day performina a chiropractic adjustment for neck pain

A doctor of chiropractic is a great resource to heal your neck injury and to get pain free again. Depending on the severity of the injury that you present with your Chiropractor will get x-rays or possibly even recommend an MRI to assess for any injury.

What is causing my pain?:

Injuries are often soft tissue in nature to one of the following structures.

-The facet joint:  This facet is the movable joint between two joints.  The ligamentous structure can become strained, inflamed, and immobile or all of the above.  When a facet is inflamed the nervous system can respond by sending excessive signals to a surrounding structures.  Patient’s often report muscle spasm, the inability to move, neuralgia or nerve pain that refers to the shoulder or arms.

-The muscles:  Muscles and the nerves that innervate them can become hyper-facilitated or spasmed after a motor vehicle accident.   Muscles have nerve sensors called muscle spindles that can tell the optimal length a muscle should be.  When they sense an excessive stretch to their structure the muscle spindles will splint the muscle.

It is my experience that muscles can stay “on” and spasmed as a method of protecting the neck, post injury.  The nervous system is incredibly adaptable.

The disc:

The disc is the major cause of chronic neck pain in about 25% of patients, and there can be both disc pain and facet pain in some cases.

When we think of the “survival” methods our body has, whiplash and muscle spasms make more sense.  During a whiplash, the head moves forward with the velocity of the impact.

As it moves forward, physics says an object put in motion will stay in motion. The means the skull would keep moving forward unless something stops it’s velocity. The most sensitive structure is the spinal cord, as the head moves forward tension is placed upon it. The muscles splint to prevent spinal cord trauma, as this is the most important structure.  If the spinal cord were to get damaged, paralysis would occur.

So in a way, we should be grateful for this adaptation these structures perform in a split second. They keep us alive.  I have found this mechanism of muscle splinting, and spasm as well as joint immobility and inflammation are the key ingredients to lasting neck pain.

These are like computer patterns that can be booted into our nervous system. The pain will persist until we “re-boot” them.  I often see musculoskeletal changes and adaptations years after a car accident.  The nervous system imbalance and scar tissue dysfunction were never balanced.  This is why I’ve become so passionate about patient’s getting the appropriate care.

The Solution:

Chiropractic adjustments focus on moving a joint gently through it’s range of motion and have been shown to reboot the communication between the joint and muscles.  Patient’s I treat report drastic changes in pain in as little as three to five visits.  Full function is often returned in twelve to twenty visits.


Exercise instruction focuses on restoring proper muscle firing patterns.


Focuses on releasing scar tissue and speeding healing time.  While “rebooting” faulty muscle adaptations.

It’s Gentle:

Chiropractic care is gentle for the care of a motor vehicle accident injury.  Often alignments involve only light motion and stretching, as the tissue is too inflamed for more deep pressure or adjustments.

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