It is very common to experience some level of pain, tightness, or soreness in the upper arms or shoulders after an accident. This pain can be caused directly by whiplash in the neck or it can be a separate injury from the force of the accident. The severity of arm or shoulder pain from whiplash varies from case to case, ranging from temporary discomfort or pain to long term pain that requires extensive physical therapy over a period of months or years.
Shoulder Pain from Whiplash
Whiplash in the neck can very easily lead to pain, stiffness, and soreness in the shoulders. When the neck is pulled violently back and forth the muscles tense and jerk in unnatural directions while ligaments and nerves are strained. Since the stabilizing muscles for the shoulders extend down from the neck, it is common for the shoulders to be strained, stretched, and otherwise injured along with the neck muscles. This is how arm or shoulder pain from whiplash extends down from the neck.
All muscles throughout the body are inter-connected, so when one section of the body undergoes trauma it is easy for the trauma to pass to connected areas of the body as well. As an experiment to see how this works, try to tense or tighten the muscles at the very top of your shoulders right now. You should be able to feel the pressure of the tightening muscles extending into the back of your neck.
From that experiment you should be understand how violent shaking or snapping of the head and neck can lead to pain in the shoulders. In some instances, injury or stress to the nerves in the neck can block signals between the brain and the body which results in tingling or numbness in the arms.
This form of shoulder pain is typically treated with physical therapy. Less intense cases will fade overtime along with other symptoms of whiplash, but more serious cases may lead to months if not years of physical therapy, massage therapy, biofeedback, and other doctor recommended treatments. Luckily, most shoulder pay caused by whiplash in the neck will fade off as the whiplash heals.
Shoulder & Arm Pain from Seatbelt Pressure
Pain in the shoulders and arms can also be caused by the pressure of the seatbelt tightening around the body during a car accident, rather than arm or shoulder pain from whiplash directly. The seatbelt tightens around the left shoulder in order to secure your body and this pressure pushes back on the body while it is being shaken or whipped around from the force of the accident.
This pressure can result in sprained muscles in the shoulders or damage to cartilage. Also, arm muscles can be strained from this pressure and violent motion. Small sacs of fluid called bursa are located in the shoulder and if they swell up they can reduce or stop blood flow to the small veins running through the shoulders and arms. This results in pain when you lift your arms up even for the simplest daily activities.
What to Do About Shoulder or Arm Pain from Whiplash
There are clearly a lot of things that can go wrong with your shoulders and arms after an accident. If you suffer whiplash in the neck you are at even greater risk since these muscles connect down into the shoulders and arms. This is why all pain, tenderness, or stiffness in the shoulders and arms after an accident should be taken very seriously. It could be a symptom of arm or shoulder pain from whiplash or it could hint at another problem due to the stress and pressure of the accident in general.
If you leave some of these problems untreated you could end up with a more serious condition, such as a torn rotator cuff. You don’t want to create long term pain from a problem that could be fixed with physical therapy right away. Always seek medical attention when you start to experience discomfort in the shoulders or arms, whether you are suffering from whiplash or not.
This article is considered general information only; please consult a medical professional concerning your specific condition.