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Whiplash Injuries: Ice or Heat?

So you have been in a car accident and you're having pain. In a previous article we discussed how to tell if you need to seek medical treatment.The next big question is "should I put ice or heat on my injuries?” If it has been less than 3 days since the injury the answer is, almost always, apply ice to the injured areas.

After the initial 3 days people become a little more confused about what they should do. In order to help you understand this I will first explain what goes on in your body when you suffer a whiplash type injury.

During a car crash, your head, neck and body are rapidly and violently jerked back and forth. This causes tearing and stretching of the ligaments, tendons and muscles in your neck and back. Ligaments are the tough, elastic tissue that connect bone to bone and help limit its movement. Tendons are the tissues that attach the muscles to the bone. Sometimes the tearing can be quite severe but oftentimes this tearing is on a microscopic level. The larger tears will cause immediate pain and swelling as blood and fluid leaks into the damaged tissues. The abnormal movements of the bones in your neck and back, caused by the stretching of the ligaments, can trigger nerve reflexes that cause muscle srspasms to limit the movement.

The body's first step in the repairing of these injuries is a domino like process called inflammation. What happens is the injured tissues release chemicals that attract white blood cells and platelets to the area. These white blood cells and platelets then release a series of chemicals that attract the repair cells (fibroblasts). These chemicals also affect the small blood vessels, causing fluid to leak into the tissues, and sensitize the nerve endings causing pain. This process can develop over several days which explains why initially you might not have symptoms but can develop pain and stiffness 2-5 days after the auto accident.

This inflammation is important for the healing process but too much inflammation can have a negative impact on healing and is very uncomfortable. Applying ice to the injured areas will decrease and control the inflammation. Applying heat while this inflammation is present will increase the blood flow to the area and make the inflammation worse. The presence of warmth and swelling is the easiest way to tell if there is inflammation. However the whiplash injuries are generally too deep to make this reliable. As a general rule, because of the chemically induced pain, inflammation is present if there is no pain free position and is absent if there is pain only with movement or certain positions. So if there are no pain-free positions then apply only ice.

We're not an 800 Referral Service

Injury Care Clinic is a medical facility specializing in the treatment of auto accident injuries.  We are NOT a 1-800 referral service.

While we understand that it may be important and even necessary for you to hire an attorney, seeking medical care at this time should be your top priority.   After all, it is covered by auto insurance.