As a chiropractor treating patients in car accidents I often see patients come in with neck pain that have a car accident whiplash injury in their history. The story often goes that they were young and bounced back rather quickly after the accident not thinking they were injured. Years later they develop nagging neck pain for no good reason at all. After a chiropractic and orthopedic examination in the office and taking x-rays I often get the rest of the story…
A car wreck causes G-forces to go through the body (that it is not prepared for) at various points in the body. As the neck is in extension position, such as it would be after being rear ended from behind, it becomes a vulnerable area for the force from the accident to damage.
How does the accident cause damage? On the surface it can cause muscular damage which would result in tension, muscle spasm, pain, etc. It also creates joint inflammation from the spinal joints crashing into one another and causing sharp pain and inflammation. The muscular damage is the easiest and quickest to resolve. The joint damage usually takes more time. The intervertebral disc acts like a shock absorber to the spinal vertebra and are often herniated (broken) or compressed creating bulging from the injury. These can create chronic vulnerabilities in the neck chronically. If a herniated disc puts pressure on a nerve then it can create nerve symptoms like numbness and tingling and will require proper management. The spinal ligaments can also become inflamed and stretched in a motor vehicle accident. Stretching of the spinal ligaments may or may not contribute to short-term pain and symptoms, but they are likely to contribute to problems down the road. Loosened ligaments may allow the curvature of the neck to change creating more tension and pressure in the neck and upper back that eventually becomes chronic pain.
These are just a few of the effects that a car accident or whiplash injury can cause. If you are ever in a car crash make sure you are evaluated by a personal injury certified chiropractor that does an examination and x-rays to determine what treatment can resolve the injury and prevent it from becoming a chronic pain situation for you.
Dr. Ryan Browning, D.C.