Chiropractic Treatment after an Auto Accident?
A person’s first instinct after an auto accident is usually to get checked out at a local Emergency Room. Since our chiropractic office is located in Bridgeton, Missouri we most commonly see patients after going to the DePaul Hospital Emergency Room. The ER is a good approach, if you suspect something serious is wrong. And you are always better safe than sorry. The Emergency Room can clear you of fractures, internal bleeding and other ailments. If you have a condition needing immediate attention, ERs are great at stabilizing you and providing the emergency care you need.
But then what? Most auto accidents do not result in fractures and brain bleeds. They result in soft tissue injuries, commonly referred to as “Whiplash.” Whiplash is usually the result of a rear-end impact, but can happen in other types of collisions as well. When most people hear the word whiplash, they think of a neck injury but it can also occur in the middle and lower back.
Another name for whiplash is a “hyperextension/hyperflexion,” injury. Meaning, the spine (and all of its supporting structures) were rapidly thrown backwards and quickly “snaps” forward during impact. This overstretches (strains) the muscles and (sprains) the the supportive spinal ligaments.
So you go to the ER and they diagnose you with a “cervical or lumbar sprain.” They send you home with muscle relaxers and high dose ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories. The doctor instructs you to ice and rest. “Your pain should go away in a couple of weeks,” they say. “If it does not improve, you should follow up with your primary care doctor.”
More often than not, this is what we hear second hand from our patients and see documented in their emergency room records. In our opinion that is wrong and wrong again.
The ER just did a great thing. They stabilized your condition and gave you the piece of mind nothing is broken. But now what is happening in your body? Whether you feel it or not, the joints in your spine are reacting to the trauma you just experienced. Muscles are tightening up and making it harder for your joints to move normally. There also may be torn tissue creating inflammation and swelling. You can wait it out and you will probably feel better over time (that part is true), but it does not mean your spine healed properly. Inflammation in the joint capsule combined with muscle guarding, limit the joint’s ability to move freely. Joints must move normally to heal normally and be healthy. (It is a process called imbibition, which is a topic for another time.) Unhealthy joints deteriorate at a faster rate, leading to premature arthritis.
What to do Next? Is there anything else you can do? Just wait it out? Return to work with limiting pain?
This is where a good chiropractor comes in. You do not need permission or a referral from a medical doctor to see your chiropractor. You do not have to sit at home and hope the pain goes away. After fractures and other contraindications are ruled out by the ER, you can begin active treatment under a chiropractor. This may include massage, electric stimulation, rehab exercises, and chiropractic adjustments to keep the joints healthy and mobile. Physical Therapy is also an option, if you have a referral.
Because whiplash sprain injuries result in tight muscles, the underlying joints are at risk of stiffness and immobility. Chiropractic adjustments increase mobility in the spinal joints. A joint that is able to move freely, functions better and often results in decreased muscle spasm/tightness. A joint that does not move, is at risk of developing early onset arthritis.
The moral of the story is follow your instinct. If you are hurting after an accident, do not sit around and “hope” things get better. Follow up with your chiropractor and “get” things moving.
Whiplash is not a case of wait and see, it is a chiropractic case.
Dr. Robert “Bo” Andel, DC
Dr. Sarah Rebello, DC