When it comes to car accidents, paramedics are often the first health care professionals who attend to your needs. Their job is to assess whether you should be rushed to the hospital for immediate medical treatment or deal with any life-threatening injuries right on the scene. Fractures, concussions, lacerations and other potential internal injuries will necessitate your escorted trip to the hospital.
What if the paramedics tell you that you are not injured enough to go to the hospital, but you still don’t feel quite right? In this article we look at frequent problems your musculoskeletal system often encounters after a car accident.
Common Car Accident Injuries
Some people encounter pain and tension right away. For others, the symptoms may get worse over time.
No matter the point of impact, your neck is usually the most vulnerable area of your body in any car accident. Car collisions involve rapid changes in acceleration and deceleration. Your head and neck are free to move, even with a proper seat belt.
This typically results in the neck moving very rapidly through an excessive range of motion. This causes hyperflexion-hyperextension injuries that can affect soft tissues in the neck, as well as joint capsules and intervertebral discs. The name often associated with car accident neck injuries is whiplash.
Symptoms from whiplash may include any or all of the following:
Neck pain and inflammation, Arm pain, numbness or tingling, Headaches, Nausea, Dizziness, lack of concentration or clarity of thought, depression, anxiety, TMJ or jaw pain, mid or lower back pain even spinal disc symptoms.
Depending upon the degree of injury, your recommended course of action will differ. To determine what you should do, first consult with your chiropractor. Chiropractors are musculoskeletal specialists. They have the know-how to assess and treat almost any problem related to the nerves, muscles, joints and connective tissues of the spine.
Your chiropractor will conduct a physical assessment of you and determine the best course of action.
In some cases, early mobilization can lead to a much speedier recovery. In the case that instability of the joints and tissues are suspected, your chiropractor will suggest avoiding movement too soon. However, if the patient presents with stable joints, he or she can get back to 100 percent sooner than they think!
Most of the time it will feel best to remain immobile for the first 48-72 hours immediately following an automobile accident. Your body will respond to any injury with an inflammatory reaction. This makes the damaged area both swollen and pain sensitive. Attempted movements during this time will usually cause more pain. Muscles around the injured area tend to spasm – effectively splinting the area and preventing further damage. Muscle spasm can also cause greater compression and/or irritation of the joints, leading to more pain.
The pain-spasm-pain cycle needs to be prevented as much as possible early in the recovery process. Cooling the immediate area of injury with ice for 5-10 minutes at a time can limit painful inflammation. In addition, resting or lying down during the first few days will ease the strain felt around the neck and shoulders.
Moving past the initial shock of your car accident
A patient can resume normal movements after he or she has passed this initial inflammatory stage– within a reasonable range and within the patient’s pain tolerance. Prolonged mobility causes muscle atrophy and weakness can make recovery and rehabilitation from a whiplash injury more difficult.
Muscle spasm will persist if movement is not encouraged, causing an increased compressive load on the discs and joints of the neck, potentially leading to chronic problems.
Those who’ve suffered car accidents commonly experience vertebral subluxations in the neck and upper back. Therefore, at any stage of healing and recovery from whiplash-associated injuries, chiropractic adjustments can reduce pain and restore normal function.
Car accidents may be a pain in the neck, but chiropractic can help!
References and sources:
- Management of whiplash associated disorders– Sacramento (CA): International Chiropractors Association of California; 2009. 55 p.