Prompt Treatment for Auto Accident Injuries is Important
If you’ve been involved in a car accident, injuries need to be taken very seriously. Because symptoms of an auto accident injury can take weeks or months to manifest, it’s easy to think that you’re not as injured as you really are.
Too often people don’t seek treatment following an auto accident because they don’t feel hurt. By far, the most common injury to the neck is a whiplash injury, which can sometimes be as serious as a herniated disc. Whiplash is caused by a sudden movement of the head, either backward, forward, or sideways, that results in the damage to the supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck, upper and lower back. Herniated discs in the lower back are also a common injury, causing pain radiating into the buttocks or down the leg.
Unfortunately, by the time more serious complications develop, some of the damage from the injury may have become permanent. Numerous studies have shown that years after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, roughly half of them state that they still suffer with symptoms from their injuries. If you have been in a motor vehicle or any other kind of accident, don’t assume that you escaped injury if you are not currently in pain.
The Four Phases of a Whiplash Injury
During a rear-end automobile collision, your body goes through an extremely rapid and intense acceleration and deceleration. In fact, all four phases of a whiplash injury occur in less than one-half of a second! At each phase, there is a different force acting on the body that contributes to the overall injury, and with such a sudden and forceful movement, damage to the vertebrae, nerves, discs, muscles, and ligaments of your neck and spine can be substantial.
During this first phase, your car begins to be pushed out from under you, causing your mid-back to be flattened against the back of your seat. This results in an upward force in your cervical spine, compressing your discs and joints. As your seat back begins to accelerate your torso forward, your head moves backward, creating a shearing force in your neck. If your head restraint is properly adjusted, the distance your head travels backward is limited. However, most of the damage to the spine will occur before your head reaches your head restraint. Studies have shown that head restraints only reduce the risk of injury by 11-20%.
During phase two, your torso has reached peak acceleration – 1.5 to 2 times that of your vehicle itself – but your head has not yet begun to accelerate forward and continues to move rearward. An abnormal S-curve develops in your cervical spine as your seat back recoils forward, much like a springboard, adding to the forward acceleration of the torso. Unfortunately, this forward seat back recoil occurs while your head is still moving backward, resulting in a shearing force in the neck that is one of the more damaging aspects of a whiplash injury. Many of the bone, joint, nerve, disc and TMJ injuries that I see clinically occur during this phase.
During the third phase, your torso is now descending back down in your seat and your head and neck are at their peak forward acceleration. At the same time, your car is slowing down. If you released the pressure on your brake pedal during the first phases of the collision, it will likely be reapplied during this phase. Reapplication of the brake causes your car to slow down even quicker and increases the severity of the flexion injury of your neck. As you move forward in your seat, any slack in your seat belt and shoulder harness is taken up.
This is probably the most damaging phase of the whiplash phenomenon. In this fourth phase, your torso is stopped by your seat belt and shoulder restraint and your head is free to move forward unimpeded. This results in a violent forward-bending motion of your neck, straining the muscles and ligaments, tearing fibers in the spinal discs, and forcing vertebrae out of their normal position. Your spinal cord and nerve roots get stretched and irritated, and your brain can strike the inside of your skull causing a mild to moderate brain injury. If you are not properly restrained by your seat harness, you may suffer a concussion, or more severe brain injury, from striking the steering wheel or windshield.
Injuries Resulting from Whiplash Trauma
Whiplash injuries can manifest in a wide variety of ways, including neck pain, headaches, fatigue, upper back and shoulder pain, cognitive changes and sciatica, low back pain. Whiplash symptoms commonly have a delayed onset, often taking weeks or months to present. There are, however, a number of conditions that are very common among those who have suffered from whiplash trauma.
It is the single most common complaint in whiplash trauma, being reported by over 90% of patients. Often this pain radiates across the shoulders, up into the head, and down between the shoulder blades. Whiplash injuries tend to affect all of the tissues in the neck, including the facet joints and discs between the vertebrae, as well as all of the muscles, ligaments and nerves.
Facet joint pain is the most common cause of neck pain following a car accident. Facet joint pain is usually felt on the back of the neck, just to the right or left of center, and is usually tender to the touch. Facet joint pain cannot be visualized on x-rays or MRIs. It can only be diagnosed by physical palpation of the area.
Disc injury is also a common cause of neck pain; especially chronic pain. The outer wall of the disc (called the annulus) is made up of bundles of fibers that can be torn during a whiplash trauma. These tears, then, can lead to disc degeneration or herniation, resulting in irritation or compression of the nerves running through the area. This compression or irritation commonly leads to radiating pain into the arms, shoulders and upper back, and may result in muscle weakness.
Damage to the muscles and ligaments in the neck and upper back are the major cause of the pain experienced in the first few weeks following a whiplash injury, and is the main reason why you experience stiffness and restricted range of motion. But as the muscles have a chance to heal, they typically don’t cause as much actual pain as they contribute to abnormal movement. Damage to the ligaments often results in abnormal movement and instability.
After neck pain, headaches are the most prevalent complaint among those suffering from whiplash injury, affecting more than 80% of all people. While some headaches are actually the result of direct brain injury, most are related to injury of the muscles, ligaments and facet joints of the cervical spine, which refer pain to the head. Because of this, it is important to treat the supporting structures of your neck in order to help alleviate your headaches.
Believe it or not, mild to moderate brain injury is common following a whiplash injury, similar to the forces on the brain that football players receive. The human brain is a very soft structure, suspended in a watery fluid called cerebrospinal fluid. When the brain is forced forward and backward in the skull, the brain bounces off the inside of the skull, leading to bruising or bleeding in the brain itself. In some cases, patients temporarily lose consciousness and have symptoms of a mild concussion. More often, there is no loss of consciousness, but patients complain of mild confusion or disorientation just after the crash. The long-term consequences of a mild brain injury can include mild confusion, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, irritability, forgetfulness, loss of sex drive, depression and emotional instability. Although less common, the nerves responsible for your sense of smell, taste and even your vision may be affected as well, resulting in a muted sense of taste, changes in your sensation of smell and visual disturbances.
Dizziness following a whiplash injury usually results from injury to the facet joints of the cervical spine, although in some cases injury to the brain or brain stem may be a factor as well. Typically, this dizziness is very temporary improves significantly with chiropractic treatment.
Low back pain
Although most people consider whiplash to be an injury of the neck, the low back is also commonly injured as well. In fact, low back pain is found in more than half of rear impact-collisions in which injury was reported, and almost three-quarters of all side-impact crashes. This is mostly due to the fact that the low back still experiences a tremendous compression during the first two phases of a whiplash injury, even though it does not have the degree of flexion-extension injury experienced in the neck.
Effective Treatment We Provide
We employ several Chiropractic Care techniques such as Atlas Orthogonal, Palmer, Diversified and Sacro-Occipital techniques to restore the normal movement and position of the spinal vertebrae. It is by far the single-most effective treatment for minimizing the long-term impact of whiplash injuries. We also use massage therapy, personalized exercise rehabilitation, electric muscle stimulation, and other soft tissue rehabilitation modalities.
We work closely with orthopedists, neurologists, and other medical specialists in the area if further treatment is required.