If you’ve ever been in a fender bender, you were probably more concerned about damage to your car than damage to your body. After all, the airbags didn’t deploy and you felt okay. You might have been a little stiff the next day, but that’s no big deal, right?
Wrong, warns Dr. Marc Davis. Even if you received a medical examination, spinal injuries could still have ensued, which only a doctor of chiropractic may detect. Symptoms might not appear for weeks, months-or even years-later.
A common result of car accidents, whiplash is an umbrella term for injuries caused by sudden flexion followed by extension of the neck. Researchers have found that this chain of events triggers a complex set of distortions throughout the spine (Chin J Traumatol 2009; 12:305-14)
Whiplash also triggers sprains and strains. A sprain occurs when the sudden hyperextension of the neck tears ligaments that support spinal bones (vertebrae). Strains occur when muscles and tendons are hyperextended. Extreme cases of whiplash can herniate disks between vertebrae and damage nerves.
Always Get a Chiropractic Evaluation
If you are in a collision, depending on the severity, you may go to the emergency room or see a medical doctor. While you might receive painkillers to mask the pain, medication does nothing to remedy the underlying problem. This is why it is critical to have a chiropractic evaluation in addition to any medical exams you receive.
Whiplash often forces spinal bones (vertebrae) of the neck out of alignment. These misalignments, called verbal subluxations, interfere with the nerves that radiate from the spinal cord. Chiropractors detect and correct vertebral subluxations with precise and gentle chiropractic adjustments. These maneuvers relieve spinal stress and ease the myriad of disorders related to vertebral subluxations.
Chiropractic is a proven therapy for whiplash. In a variety of studies following whiplash patients, up to 93 percent of those receiving chiropractic adjustments showed improvement (J of Ortho Med 1999;21:22-5).
A review of 27 investigations reveals that chiropractic care is particularly effective in alleviating pain and improving range of motion in the neck following whiplash injuries (Work 2010;35:369-94)
Sooner is Better
It is important to get checked by a chiropractor as soon as possible after a motor vehicle accident. There are two reasons for this:
First, it is essential to identify all injuries before settling with insurance companies. Since the effects of whiplash are not always evident right away, a prompt chiropractic exam is crucial to avoid paying-out-of-pocket for debilitating symptoms that may emerge later.
Secondly, evidence shows that prompt care is more effective than delayed care for whiplash. In one study, 67 percent of patients experienced improvement in their symptoms if they received care for whiplash within three months of injury. In contrast, only 48 percent of those began therapy more than three months after injury improved (Arch Orthop Trauma Surg 2009;129:973).
Better Late Than Never
Although it is preferable to seek chiropractic care immediately following a motor vehicle accident, it is vital that anybody who has ever been in a motor vehicle collision receive chiropractic evaluation-regardless of how much time has passed.
“Minor” Accidents Can Cause Major Injuries
Just because a collision occurs at a low speed and causes minimal damage to the vehicle doesn’t mean it has not seriously impacted the spines of those involved. In fact, most cases of whiplash occur at vehicle speeds below 14 mph (23kph) (J Bone Joint Surg Br 2009;91:845-50).
What’s more, research shows that motor vehicle crashes at speeds as low as 2.5 mph (4kph) may cause injury, even if vehicular damage is nonexistent (J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1998;21:629-39).
A study presented at the Stapp Car Crash Conference examined people in simulated rear-impact collisions at 9 mph (14kph). Participants instinctively tensed their muscles to absorb the impact. However, they did not react until their necks (cervical spines) were flexed due to the G-force of their heads.
The average adult head weighs 10 lbs (4.5kg) and can experience forces of 17G at the speed used in this experiment. That means the head exerts 170 lbs (77kg) of force on the neck. And this is when the crash occurs at speeds less than 10 mph!
Delayed Onset of Symptoms
Even if you feel only mild pain after a car accident-or no pain at all-severe effects of whiplash can develop much later.
Studies comparing drivers who were in rear-end collisions found that those who suffered whiplash from the accident more likely to experience headaches, back pain, shoulder and neck pain, fatigue and sleep problems seven years afterward (J Clin Epidemiol 2001;54:851-6).
More Than a Pain in the Neck
The obvious effects of whiplash injury are pain and stiffness in the neck, but a range of other symptoms are also possible. For instance, chronic headaches are common.
A survey of 3,358 patients who suffered whiplash identified symptoms including low-back pain, fatigue, dizziness, numbness and nausea (Ann Rheum Dis 2005;64:1337-42).
Mental and emotional disturbances associated with whiplash include poor concentration, sleep disturbances, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Emerg Med J 2002;19:499-506).
What Else to Do
In addition to chiropractic care, the doctor may recommend additional interventions to help you recover from whiplash.
For instance, the doctor may suggest that you use an ice pack to ease pain and reduce muscle spasms.
In most case, immobilizing the neck with cervical collar is not necessary and can actually slow recovery. On the other hand, normal activity helps muscles heal with less stiffness.
Stretching or strengthening exercise are also proven effective. Ask the doctor to instruct you on the exercises that are best-suited for your individual situation (Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2005;3:CD004250).
Minimize Your Risk
There are ways to reduce your risk of whiplash injury. Car design is constantly evolving to improve safety. Ideal cars combine a strong seat frame with a soft seat to absorb the force of the torso in an accident.
If possible, choose a newer car. One review of nearly 2,000 car accidents showed that the newer the car, the less likely passengers were to suffer spinal injuries (Traffic Inj Prev 2009;10:560-6).
No matter how old your car is, simply adjusting the head restraints high enough to align with the back of the head protects the neck in case of an accident. The restraint should be close to your head to minimize head and neck motion during a crash (Spine 2002;27:34-42).
Know Your Rights: Talk to the Doctor
Many accident victims mistakenly assume that their insurance company can dictate what type of care they receive or even chose their doctor. This is not the case. If you have been in an accident, schedule an appointment to talk to the doctor about your rights and your care options.
Optimal Health University™ is a professional service of PreventiCare Publishing®. The information and recommendations are appropriate in most instances. They are not, however, a substitute for consultation with a health-care provider such as Dr. Davis. Copyright, 2017.
Dr. Marc Davis and Dr. Christina Alvira and Dr. Andrew Wade adjust patients at Davis Family Chiropractic & Massage, a thriving wellness-oriented office located next to Fred Meyer in Fisher’s Landing. For FREE monthly tips and community events like us on Facebook or become a member of our website www.davisfamilychiro.com. To schedule a time to meet with Dr. Davis or Dr Christina or Dr Wade, or to get information about having them speak at your club, church group or workplace, call (360) 823-2225. Mention “LacamasMagazine” and “Free Scan” to get your Computerized Back and Neck Scan (regularly $95) for FREE (limited time offer).
Dr. Marc Davis & Dr. Christina Alvira & Dr. Andrew Wade
DAVIS FAMILY CHIROPRACTIC AND MASSAGE, PLLC
“For a Lifetime of Standing Tall!”
2415 SE 165TH Avenue, Suite 105
Vancouver, WA 98683