Your in your car, relaxed, waiting at a stoplight when suddenly you hear the screech of tires, the harsh sound of collision, and before you can brace yourself, you feel the jolt of your car moving forward. You have just been rear-ended.
What happens in this fraction of a second is absolutely astounding and can have terrible consequences, effecting you for the next few hours, days, weeks, and can effect your health forever.
Upon impact your seat pushes your body forward while your neck and head stay stationary. This causes your neck to extend (rock back) from the bottom up, rather than from the top down as it was designed. This uncoupling of normal neck extension is where most of the damage happens in car accidents, causing predictable damage to the lower neck in the C5 to C7 area.
Once you reach the limits of your seat to absorb the impact, you are flung forward and restrained by your seat belt, whipping your head forward furthering the damage to your neck.
It is important to not minimize the extent of your injuries because your car does not appear to have sustained much damage. Your car, after all, is made of much stronger materials than you are. In fact, the Spine Research institute of San Diego found that in rear-end collistions with speeds below 10MPH, the person being rear-ended experienced accelerations equivalent to 5-7G. That's like getting hit in the face with a 70 pound sandbag. The person doing the rear-ending only experienced 2-3G of acceration, and they aren't going through improper, uncoupled motion like the person being hit. This is why the rear-ender often has very minor injuries in comparison to who they hit.
An immediate examination is required whenever you are in a car crash. A medical examination will likely result in pain pills and muscle relaxers, which will help you get by, but they won't fix the strained muscles, sprained ligaments, and misalignment in your neck.
An examination by an Atlas Orthogonal chiropractor will assess the damage in your neck, precisely measure the misalignment of the neck, and calculate the angles needed to gently and safely correct the misalignment so your neck can heal properly and prevent future degeneration from the whiplash.
Some common questions about whiplash:
Why do I hurt worse a couple days after the car accident?
When you are first injured there hasn't been enough time for the inflammatory changes to occur, so you will often not be sore right after an accident. This is very similar to when you start a new exercise program and you are not sore right after the workout but the next day you can definitely tell you started a new routine. Once the inflammation sets in, you start to feel the muscle soreness and spasm that results from the damaged tissue.
Why do I have headaches after my car accident if it was my neck that was injured?
Headaches after a car crash are quite common and can have a few different sources.
First is what is called a cervicogenic headache, in other words, a headache caused by a misalignment in the neck. This misalignment can be gently corrected without any twisting or popping through Atlas Orthogonal Chiropractic and the headache resolved pretty quickly in many cases. In others, the damage to the neck may be severe enough that the adjustments may need the assistance of physical therapy.
Another potential cause of headache after a car accident is concussion, an injury to the brain that causes swelling and bruising, for lack of a better term. Concussions can be serious and care should be taken to treat them properly. Upper cervical chiropractic can help with their resolution, but there is also a nutritional component to helping the brain heal that is often overlooked.
Why do I have numbness and/or pain in my arms and hands?
The nerves that go to your arms and hands come from your neck and they can be impinged and or damaged in a whiplash injury, causing the numbness and pain. This is called radiculopathy. Curiously, misalignment of the neck can alter the postural system causing pain in other areas of the spine. Pain that won't go away until the neck misalignment is corrected.
Will I ever be back to normal again?
Sometimes the answer is "No", but you can work toward what is called "maximum recovery." This means that you have reached the point at which you are as good as you're going to be in the time frame allowed by injury regulations. This does not mean that you cannot continue to improve past that "maximum recovery." I have been in several car accidents, and I am always surprised at how I continue to get better in small increments with continues care from several practitioners, even after I have reached my "maximum recovery" and settled with the insurance company.
Car accidents are just that, accidents, so they are not predictable, but there are several things you can do to try and avoid them:
Make sure your car's turn signals (yes, you must use these.) and brake lights are in good working order.
Put down your cell phone! It impairs you at least as much as drunk driving.
Stay safe out there and if you do get in a crash, get checked out.