A Few Things You Should Know If You Have Been In An Accident
If you are in an accident that you “walk away” from, you are typically more concerned about your car and whose fault the accident was than you are about your health. You may not even feel any pain immediately, or you might feel a little stiff and bruised—but you would expect that. Maybe you take an over-the-counter pain medication of some sort, which only adds to your feeling of everything being “all right.” But, for most people, eventually the realization comes that things are not quite as “OK” as they seemed.
What Happened to Me?
The most common diagnosis following an accident is whiplash—a severe sprain/strain of the neck. Unfortunately, whiplash can occur from accidents that are at low speeds (5 mph) all the way up to high speeds (65+ mph). The second most common problem is a similar sprain/strain of the thoracic/lumbar region (mid to low back). These painful conditions can create “hidden injuries” within the spine and surrounding soft tissue.
How Long Will I Hurt?
Three or four hours after an accident occurs, a whiplash victim will feel a little stiffness and some deep achiness, which may even radiate down into the shoulder. Occasionally, the patient also feels numbness and a tingling sensation—a condition known as radiculopathy. Radiculopathy results from either a “stinger” or the nerve (in which case it will usually subside in 2-5 days) or a herniated disk in the cervical spine (which is a more serious problem). Over the next few days these symptoms will increase through the 3rd day after the accident, at which time a person with whiplash often feels severe pain and soreness. This is because the body creates inflammation in the injured area in an effort to heal itself. This inflammation continues to build for 72 hours, after which time it typically begins to dissipate—though whiplash victims can expect another milder “relapse” around day 10.
What Can I Do?
ICE. During the first 72 hours, ice the injured area every 2 hours for 20 minutes. Also, take ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, etc) since it reduces inflammation and relieves pain. If desired, a soft collar or other devise to restrict movement may be used for the first 72 hours, but after 72 hours the neck needs mobility in order to heal.
Exercises. You can do a gentle home exercise to start the healing process right away. A demonstration of the exercise is given at the end of the video above; however, I'll briefly describe it here. Basically, all you need to do is gently rotate your head/neck from right to center followed by movements from left to center, 10 times in each direction. Doing this several times throughout the day will help "floss the nerves" or to maintain the space for nerves to travel through tight and compressed tissues, also providing nutrients needed to heal and flush out toxins from the damaged/compressed areas.
Should I Go to a Chiropractor?
Absolutely. The earlier care is initiated, the quicker the overall recovery. Avoiding scar tissue in the areas of injury is the reason to get professional chiropractic care right away following and injury. Otherwise, injured tissues can lead to more swelling and scar tissue formation in the neck and back leading to chronic neck pain or to progressive myofascial disorders, like fibromyalgia. Although the damage to joints, discs and sensitive tissues may be substantial, there is often a positive response to our all-natural healing methods.Chiropractic care helps ease the pain and discomfort as well. As care continues over the next month, pain continues to subside as muscles and ligaments begin to heal. Because of chiropractic care, this healing is occurring properly and the patient is on the way to full recovery. Without the help of a chiropractor, the muscles may begin adapting to an unnatural curvature of the neck—and this leads to problems down the road. It is not uncommon for whiplash victims to encounter a nagging stiffness and soreness for four, six, even twelve months after the accident! Because the muscles and joints are not in their optimal position, the person tires easily—especially when driving or typing or doing other repetitive activities. Another frequent complication is HEADACHES. When neck muscles are sore and tight, a classic tension headache often results.
I Didn’t See a Chiropractor Right After My Accident—Is it Too Late?
No. While it is always better to start care as quickly as possible, you can still find help and relief even if it has been a while since the accident. I have a patient who came to me a full year after her accident. She had tried everything that medicine and physical therapy had to offer, but she still couldn’t find the relief she needed. I am happy to report that, while it took some time, chiropractic care has finally made the difference for her and she feels much better. On the flip side, I treated a young man who came to me the day after his accident, and after a couple of months or so he was fully recovered. A lot of factors played into the differences between these two scenarios, but the ultimate key to healing in both cases was appropriate chiropractic care.
What About My Car Accident Insurance?
Most insurance companies will cover any care you receive from a chiropractor as long as you initiate care by the 6th month following the accident—and as long as the accident was reported to your auto insurance company ASAP (usually within 72 hours). If you need assistance with your coverage or have questions, we would be happy to help you.