Whiplash and Chiropractic
Did you know that in the United States there are over SIX MILLION auto accidents each year resulting in over TWO MILLION injuries per year? In North Carolina alone, there are at least 275,000 accidents per year. While property damage is often seen as the most expensive part of an auto accident, the short-term and long-term physical tolls can be just as damaging…and just as expensive when you account for the costs of medical care.
The most common injury suffered during a car accident are what we call Whiplash Associated Disorders or WAD. These WAD injuries and symptoms include:
Neck Stiffness or Restricted Range of Motion
Shoulder and/or Upper Back Pain
Radiating Pain, Tingling, Numbness, or Weakness in the Arms
Ringing in the Ears
If you look more closely at this list, you may realize that there are a lot of symptoms/issues here that the average person would not consider seeing a chiropractor for. To be honest, some of these symptoms are things people might not see any doctor for, but unfortunately the old attitude of “rub some dirt on it” isn’t always the best idea.
While some symptoms of Whiplash Assoc. Disorders can resolve on their own over time, Chiropractors can be extremely helpful in treating and resolving these injuries and the associated symptoms.
Chiropractic & Whiplash
If you go to a typical urgent care or emergency room after an auto accident, the physician there will be primarily concerned with ruling out any type of structural injury like fractures or dislocations. After that, they will often treat any remaining symptoms with a combination of pain killers, muscle relaxants, or other similar drugs. While this may help you feel better and begin returning to your normal life, there are still many issues that can linger or go un-treated within this model of care.
In a chiropractic office, we go beyond this initial exam and look for signs of biomechanical dysfunction (IE altered movement patterns), secondary WAD-related symptoms, soft tissue injuries, change in muscle tone such as spasm, restriction, etc…on top of our standard chiropractic exam. We may even repeat the same x-rays the urgent care took, not because we don’t trust their opinion, but because we’re looking at things like posture, alignment, center of gravity, and signs of compensation that other providers don’t look for. We do this because we want to treat the entire individual and hopefully address the real reasons behind their symptoms. If we determine that there are injuries resulting from an accident, we treat according to the following goals:
Reduce Acute Inflammation - Inflammation is a normal response to injury, but it often does not resolve quickly and can create irritation to surrounding soft tissues, nerve roots, etc. Inflammation can even prevent the healing process from advancing properly if it gets out of control. Our first goal is to reduce this acute inflammation and we do so through the use of therapies like Ice/Heat, E-Stim, and Low Level Laser Therapy. By reducing inflammation we can ultimately decrease the patient’s pain, allowing them to return to a more normal life and also more easily engage in the process of rehabbing from their injuries.
Protect/Restore Range of Motion - During a whiplash-type injury, we often see sprain/strain injuries to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around the spine. When soft tissues are injured, they can become stiff during the healing process. This is happens because of how the damaged collagen fibers, muscle fibers, etc are rebuilt and repaired. Common examples of this you may see are individuals who get “frozen” joints after shoulder or knee surgeries or restricted ankle/foot motion in the case of repetitive ankle sprains. Chiropractic adjustments help avoid this “stiffness” by insuring the underlying joints have a normal range of motion as the tissues around them heal.
Strengthen and Restore - After soft tissue injuries, it is not uncommon to see a reduction in strength and stability. This is because your brain subconsciously “turns down the volume” on muscle groups that are injured and healing. Reducing acute inflammation and restoring/protecting normal motion can be crucial to regaining your strength, but Chiropractors are also trained to guide you as you return to normal activities and build back your strength. As you improve, we change and modify your treatment plan (in and out of the office), to match your progress, thus insuring that you are appropriately challenged at every step.
Return to Pre-Injury Status - This is the most important aspect of chiropractic care after a whiplash injury. We see patients every week that are still suffering the negative effects of accidents that were years, if not decades ago. They’re in this position now because they were not guided through a proper rehab plan or they were simply told that “you’ll probably never be the same again.” While there are some injuries that result in lifelong changes, the majority of people can, and should, be able to move forward as if their injuries never happened.
So, the next time you or a loved on walks away from a car accident seemingly unscathed, remember that there are many associated symptoms that may go undiagnosed or untreated. In the case of almost every car accident, it’s at least worth consulting a Chiropractor to ensure that none of these injuries go unnoticed. If you decide chiropractic care isn’t right for you, that’s okay, but at least you’ll have a full understanding of what the road to recovery will look like.
If you live in the Raleigh, Cary, Durham, or Wake Forest, we hope you’ll think about our office the next time you or a friend are dealt with a whiplash injury. Chiropractic is an amazing tool that many people don’t consider!