What Happens in a Car Accident?

Injuries to the neck caused by a rapid movement of the head backward, forward, or side to side, is referred to as “Whiplash.” Whether a result of a car accident, sport, or work injury, whiplash or other neck injuries warrant a thorough chiropractic check-up. The biggest danger with these injuries is that the symptoms can take years to develop. Too often people don’t seek treatment until more serious complications develop. Even after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, between 39%-56% report they still suffer with symptoms two years later.

In the past, a typical whiplash injury where no bones were broken, was hard to document. Soft tissue injuries do not show up on x-ray and insurance companies would deny coverage. Literally adding insult to injury, the patient suffering all too real pain was considered to be a fraud, a liar, or at best a hypochondriac. New imaging devices (CAT Scans, Magnetic Imaging, and Ultra-Sound) may now show soft tissue injury and now insurance companies cover most whiplash injuries.

When no bones are broken and the head doesn’t strike the windshield, typical symptoms are as follows: 92% complain of neck pain, which typically starts two hours up to two days after the accident. This is often the result of tightened muscles that react to either muscle tears or excessive movement of joints from ligament damage. The muscles tighten in an effort to splint and support the head, limiting the excessive movement.

About 57% of those suffering from whiplash complain of headaches. The pain may be on one side or both, on again off again or constant, in one spot or more generalized. These headaches, like the neck pain, are often the result of tightened, tensed muscles trying to keep the head stable and, like tension headaches, they are often felt behind the eyes.

Shoulder pain often described as pain radiating down the back of the neck into the shoulder blade area, may also be the result of tensed muscles, accounting for 49% of injuries caused by whiplash.

Muscle tears are often described as burning pain, prickling or tingling. More severe disc damage may cause sharp pain with certain movements, with or without radiation into the arms, hand and fingers, which are relieved by holding your hand over your head.

Whiplash Symptoms
The following lists the most common whiplash symptoms as well as their rate of occurrence. If you experience any of these symptoms, play it safe and get a chiropractic check up.

Neck pain and/or stiffness 92%
Headache 57%
Fatigue 56%
Shoulder pain 49%
Anxiety 44%
Pain between the shoulder blades 42%
Low back pain 39%
Sleep disturbance 39%
Upper limb paresthesia 30%
Sensitivity to noise 29%
Difficulty concentrating 26%
Blurred vision 21%
Irritability 21%
Difficulty swallowing 16%
Dizziness 15%
Forgetfulness 15%
Upper limb pain 12%
Upper limb weakness 6%
Ringing in the ears 4%
Pain in the jaw or face 4%+

Mechanics of a whiplash injury
Whiplash is most commonly received from being struck from behind, whether from something as light as a fender bender or from something as powerful as a football tackle. When the head is suddenly jerked back and forth beyond its normal limits, the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine can be over-stretched or torn.

In a rear end collision for example, whiplash can be divided into four basic phases:

Phase 1
During Phase 1 the car is first pushed or accelerated forward within milliseconds. Your car is essentially pushed out from under you and your back loads the seat. High shearing forces develop within the neck and your spinal curves straighten and compress. High pressures develops within the brain and shearing forces on the brain stem.

Phase 2
Upward rise of your neck as your head snaps into full extension over the headrest and collapses it. This acts as a fulcrum and TMJ injury is possible with high compression within the joint and some of the muscles and ligaments are stretched or torn in the neck.

Phase 3
The head begins its forward motion as the torso descends into the seat. Seat back bounce increases your velocity 30-70% greater than that of your car. Slack in the seatbelt shoulder harness begins to tighten. Your neck muscles, in a reflex action, contract to bring the head forward as they are thought to be in extension (phase 2), in an attempt to prevent excessive injury. But, because the head is already traveling in a forward direction as the car decelerates, there is an overcompensation.

Phase 4
This violently rocks the head forward, overstretching more muscles and ligaments in the back of the neck. Full deceleration of the head, neck and torso is aggravated by the shoulder harness. High tension and shear forces in the spine can cause the soft pulpy discs between the vertebrae to bulge, tear, or rupture. Vertebrae can be forced out of their normal position, reducing range of motion (Vertebral Subluxation.) The brain stem, spinal cord and nerve roots get stretched, irritated, and choked. If the victim is not properly restrained the occupant’s head may strike the steering wheel or windshield, causing a concussion.

Risk Factors
The resulting instability of the spine and soft tissues are noteworthy and depend on several factors.


Crash Facts

Most injuries don’t show on x-rays

Chiropractic treatment is one of the only proven effective forms of care in the treatment chronic whiplash related injuries. Through the use of carefully controlled pressures directed at the spine and various physical therapy modalities, combined with that of exercise and nutrition, whiplash sufferers have a better outcome. This is also known as chiropractic rehabilitation, and is the unique domain of the chiropractic physician.

Studies have demonstrated that without proper movement within the fixated spinal joints, osteoarthritis of the spine and nerve root complications may be accelerated.

Whiplash associated disorders do not exclude children. In fact, children involved in automobile accidents are often neglected in these types of injuries when in actuality, they suffer from the same symptoms and are at a greater risk for damages. Adding fuel to the fire, a number of insurance companies object to paying for the care of children when the literature shows that they are at two-thirds the risk of adults.

Accident Plan
Motor vehicle Accidents are a leading cause of accidental death and injury in the nation. If you, or someone you know, has been injured in auto accident, here are the steps you should follow:

The significance of air bags, while providing a means for reducing the risk of serious or fatal injury that current air bags pose to identifiable groups of people, e.g., people who cannot avoid sitting extremely close to air bags, people with certain medical conditions, and young children. The benefits are substantial; current air bags had saved about 2,620 drivers and passengers, as of November 1, 1997. However, those air bags had also caused the death of 87 people in low speed crashes, as of that same date. Most of those people were unbelted or improperly belted. Although vehicle manufacturers are beginning to replace current air bags with new air bags having some advanced attributes, i.e., attributes that will automatically avoid the risks created by current air bags, an interim solution is needed now for those groups of people at risk from current air bags in existing vehicles.

Normal Cervical Curve X-ray

Reverse (kyphotic) Curve