Approximately six million car accidents occur in the U.S. every year, and of those, 27% result in non-fatal injuries. Depending on the force behind the impact, a collision can throw and contort your body in ways that cause severe damage like broken bones and soft tissue injuries.
One of the most common car accident injuries is whiplash. It can cause immense pain that can persist for an extended period, even causing life-long issues, so it’s important to see a doctor immediately.
There are many ways that a doctor may treat common injuries and neck pain in accident victims, but a whiplash chiropractor specializing in this injury has a unique understanding of the damage it can cause and how to relieve it.
What is Whiplash?
In the simplest of terms, whiplash refers to the micro-tears in the soft tissue of the neck caused by the forceful movement of the head and neck forward and then backward. It is a common car accident injury, so any auto accident chiropractor likely deals with whiplash regularly and specializes in treating it.
Several factors affect the process that leads to whiplash, including what part of the vehicle sustained the impact and where the affected person sat. A car accident chiropractor will likely ask questions to better understand the circumstances leading to whiplash to form a more appropriate treatment plan.
To evaluate the biomechanics of a whiplash injury, consider the five stages that occur using the example of a rear-end collision, which commonly causes whiplash injuries.
The stages include:
- The force behind the rear-end impact, even in minor car accidents, causes the seat to push forward against the person’s back. The motion transfers force through the spine and up to the head.
- Because the body must move with the motion of the seat, it pushes forward while the head and neck do not. As a result, the natural lordosis curve of the spine contorts into an S-shape. This compression and distorted movement can damage any part of the neck, including discs between the vertebrae and joints.
- As the forward motion of the seat pushes the body forward and the head backward, the soft tissue in the front of the neck may sustain damage depending on the force behind the impact.
- The person’s head then naturally shifts forward at the same rate of speed.
- The unnatural movement of the head going forward can cause tears in the soft tissue of the back of the neck.
Several factors affect the severity of the injury. In the example provided above, if the car approaching from behind hits the other vehicle at high speed, the likelihood of a more severe injury is greater. Additionally, a smaller car made of light materials would not sustain impact as well as a larger car made of heavy materials.
When Is Whiplash Serious?
Physical symptoms of whiplash generally indicate that a serious injury occurred due to the accident. However, some symptoms signal that you should see a doctor right away.
For example, some serious symptoms include:
- Difficulty finding your balance or coordination
- Suffering from severe pain in the neck and head area
- Signs of nerve damage, such as numbness, weakness, pain, and tingling in the extremities
- Trouble stabilizing your neck
- Changes in mental state, such as irritability, reduced concentration, depression, or insomnia
Early treatment can help prevent more serious complications. Speak to your primary care physician right away or seek emergency medical treatment. Then you can discuss therapy options with a whiplash chiropractor to form a plan for your continued care.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Whiplash?
The symptoms of whiplash vary depending on the severity of the injury. Some people begin to feel them right away, and others may have no signs of damage for hours or even days.
You never expect a car accident, and the sudden impact is always shocking. Your body typically reacts physically to that surprise by over-producing adrenaline. Adrenaline blocks pain receptors, making it difficult to feel pain for up to several hours after the accident. As a result, your body could easily mask symptoms of whiplash until much later.
Some common whiplash symptoms seen by a car accident chiropractor include:
- Tinnitus, which manifests as ringing in the ears
- Pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders
- Frequent headaches often lasting a long time
- Reduction of or loss of movement in the neck
- Lower back pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty with swallowing food
- Numbness, pain, or tingling in the hands or arms
- Tenderness in the front or back of the neck
- Vertigo, which manifests as a feeling of spinning or moving without making the physical movement
Some of the less common symptoms manifest as changes in mental condition, including trouble concentrating, irritability, and experiencing memory loss. Given the large number of potential symptoms of whiplash, some collectively become actual disorders associated with a whiplash diagnosis. An auto accident chiropractor can use your symptoms to form a treatment plan to help alleviate the pain and discomfort.
What Are the Risk Factors for Whiplash?
Assessing the potential damage caused by whiplash means conducting a thorough evaluation of all the factors that can affect the severity of the injury and the type of treatment needed. A whiplash chiropractor will consider three categories of risk factors: human, vehicular, and collision.
Gender plays a role in who is more at risk for whiplash. Women have an almost doubled risk for sustaining a whiplash injury in a car accident than men.
Similarly, age also affects the risk. As you get older, your muscle strength may gradually decline, resulting in weakened muscles more susceptible to injury. Therefore, the older you are, the more at risk you are for injury, particularly more severe injury.
Additionally, people with prior neck injuries are more likely to suffer from whiplash following a car accident. They also have a greater risk for more severe injuries, requiring a more lengthy recovery time.
Other human factors include:
- Lack of awareness. If you could prepare for the impact of a collision, you could potentially reduce your risk for injury.
- Position of the head. If you turned your head at the moment of impact, the risk for injury is significantly higher.
- Position of the body. If your body is in a twisted or turned position at the time of impact, your could experience more severe injuries.
If you have any combination of these risk factors, you may benefit from seeing a whiplash chiropractor for therapy and alignment.
Vehicles have varying structural differences depending on a variety of elements. Therefore, some vehicles could add to the risk for potential injury in motor vehicle accidents.
For example, suppose the seat’s head restraint placement is below the occupant’s center of gravity, meaning it does not reach the top of the person’s ears. In that case, the possibility for injury is significantly higher because it allows more space for the head to fall backward.
Seatbelts are an essential safety feature in any vehicle. They can prevent serious injury in almost every collision. However, wearing a seatbelt hinders body movement, increasing the risk of whiplash.
The most common type of accident leading to whiplash is rear-ending collisions. However, whiplash is possible at other points of impact. For example, front-impact crashes can cause the driver to jolt forward into the dash or steering wheel and then back again. Side impacts can cause serious injuries as well, but the risk for whiplash is significantly lower.
The size of the colliding vehicles also plays a role in the risk of sustaining a whiplash injury. For example, if you drive a sedan and the vehicle that rear-ends you is a full-sized SUV, your risk for more significant injuries dramatically increases. More mass transfers more energy, producing more force.
How Can a Car Accident Chiropractor Diagnose Whiplash?
There are a few ways that a doctor can diagnose whiplash. The most common way to begin is with a physical exam. Your auto accident chiropractor will assess your range of motion and observe your posture. They can check for misalignments and ask about any tenderness in the neck area.
They can check your reflexes to see if the nerves in the neck can properly signal to the muscles in your arms and check for weakness in the hands, arms, and shoulders. Any signs of muscle weakness can indicate a loss of power. They will also check for any changes in sensation to assess nerve damage.
More serve injuries may call for diagnostic imaging. These include:
- A bone scan can detect the small fractures you cannot see on other images.
- A radiograph can search for fractures.
- A magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI scan is the better choice when looking for damage to muscles and other soft tissue, such as ligaments and discs.
- A computed tomography, or CT scan combines x-rays to provide a better image of the injured area.
Diagnostic imaging is not always helpful for whiplash because the micro-tears common with this injury are not always readily visible.
How Can an Auto Accident Chiropractor Treat Whiplash?
Should you decide to seek treatment from a whiplash chiropractor, some techniques you might expect include:
- Soft tissue therapies. This treatment entails the application of pressure to the injury as well as stretching to relieve stiffness.
- Chiropractic adjustments. The chiropractor can identify joints in the vertebrae out of alignment and perform spinal manipulation to put them back in place. Variations of this treatment can help relieve pain from herniated discs.
- Therapy using instruments. Gentle, repetitive strokes over damaged soft tissue with a small instrument help alleviate pain and stiffness.
- Interferential electrical stimulation. This is a less hands-on treatment that stimulates the injured muscle by sending low-frequency currents through them. Doctors often use it to treat muscle spasms and stiffness of the neck.
- Stimulating or relaxing the muscles. A standard treatment for muscle tension involves stretching the injured area.
- Trigger-point therapy. Once the chiropractor identifies a joint that does not perform normally, they can use a swift thrusting motion to help with movement.
Your first session with a chiropractor can involve many techniques following an assessment of your injuries and symptoms. You should expect them to ask many questions and feel around the neck, back, and shoulders to check for any necessary adjustments to help lessen your pain.
What Are the Benefits of Chiropractic Treatment for Whiplash?
Everyone responds differently to medical treatment, and every injury is unique. However, there are some common benefits that patients may experience when visiting a car accident chiropractor. The benefits of chiropractic treatment for whiplash include:
- Faster recovery time. Whiplash can take weeks or months to heal, and the process is painful and inconvenient. If you seek medical attention from an auto accident chiropractor soon after an accident, adjustments may help you avoid further complications. Immediate care gets the blood flowing and may help you achieve better results quickly.
- Alleviate pain and inflammation. Adjustments often help relieve pain and stiffness, sometimes saving you from needing pain medications that could lead to a dangerous dependency.
- Reduce the occurrence of headaches. Headaches are a common side effect of whiplash, and chiropractic adjustments can reduce the tension that leads to headache pain.
- Help you regain motion in your neck. Another common side effect of whiplash is stiffness in the neck. Chiropractors often focus on helping you restore movement rather than just treating the pain.
- Improve muscle tone. Chiropractic adjustments can help restore muscle strength lost after your injury.
The goal of any chiropractic treatment plan is to increase your overall health in addition to treating your injury. Adjustments increase blood flow all over the body, increasing mental focus and clarity and providing you with more energy.
Why Should You Contact a Whiplash Chiropractor for Help Today?
If you suffered a whiplash injury in a car crash, a whiplash chiropractor at Comprehensive Healthcare Group could help you with recovery. Our chiropractic care includes therapy to help reduce muscle strain, alleviate pain, and align the vertebrae of the neck often jarred after a car accident.
Our doctors accept no-fault insurance, workers’ compensation, medical liens, and other health insurance plans. If you are filing an insurance claim or lawsuit to recover medical bills, our doctors can provide the necessary documentation to your insurance company or a personal injury attorney.
Whiplash can present differently in everyone. Therefore, we carefully design a treatment plan to suit your goals and needs. For more information about what the health care professionals at Comprehensive Healthcare Group can do for you, contact us today for your assessment and treatment.