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What Causes your Back and Neck to Hurt After a Car Accident

Nothing good ever comes out of a car accident! Here’s the deal:

  1. Your vehicle may be damaged
  2. Your insurance rates could go up
  3. You could sustain painful, life-altering injuries.

Even minor crashes, which may not appear as big a deal, can leave a lasting damage to your body. It takes 8.7 mph to damage a vehicle, but it only takes 5 mph to damage the human body. As a doctor of chiropractic, I implement soft tissue and realignment strategies to induce movement, circulation, facet joint receptor reeducation and proper healing of muscles, ligaments, tendons and more.

Your neck (cervical spine) and back (thoracic/lumbar spine) are particularly sensitive to sudden, jerking movements, and it can result in whiplash or lower back injuries. Let’s take a closer look at the some injuries, the mechanism of injury and how long that pain may remain.

Neck Strain/Sprain and Whiplash

When you are in an accident, the force of your vehicle crashes into another object there are a few factors that affect future disability and returning back to pre-accident condition. Some of those factors include mass of the vehicles, velocity and inertia. Remember these terms from college physics? You’re not alone I disliked physics as well.

When a car collides with an object the force of the collision will impact the car and not you at initial impact. If you visualize your body as being separate and unattached to the car you can see when the car collides with a immovable object you will continue to move forward for a fraction of a second before the seat belt or airbag is deployed.  This is due to the law of inertia which states a object will remain in motion until it is acted upon by another force.

Whiplash is often a result of an incident like this, most notably a car accident. The force of the crash causes the muscles/tendons to stretch/tear, facet joint pain, alterations in spinal curvature and more.  While you may not exhibit symptoms right away the research suggests that you may not feel symptoms up to 6 months following a car accident.  So my best recommendation is that if you get into a car accident over 5 mph you get checked out by an auto accident chiropractor.  If you are located in the Charleston, SC area an were involved in a car wreck I can help.  To schedule visit westashleychiropractor.com

If you feel any of the following symptoms following a car accident you likely have whiplash.

  • Headaches- traveling from your neck or localized.
  • Tightness/Pain in the neck and/or upperback
  • Limited range of movement, including side-to-side, up and down, or looking over your shoulder
  • Tenderness in the muscles and surrounding structures

Low Back Pain

According to the ACA, 80% of Americans suffer from some form of back pain or discomfort in their life.  Lower back pain is one of the most common types of pains, so it is often not the first thing you think of after an accident.  Even if you had back pain once in a while before your accident it doesn’t mean that it’s pre-existing.  Also, pain can be of different qualities and varieties.  Some low back pain might be dull, achy, sharp, shooting, throbbing, tight, pinching etc.  So even if you had low back pain prior to an accident that lower back pain can change or get worse.  My job with car accident patients is to return them to pre-accident condition.

Like with whiplash, some people may experience pain immediately, others may not feel anything for days or even weeks after the crash.  Lower back pain can begin gradually, and many clients often complain about delayed back problems following a vehicular accident. In the majority of cases, lower back pain sustained from a car wreck is likely one of two things: disc injuries and/or facet joint injuries.  Chiropractic and pain management doctors are best probably the best doctors to see for these types of injuries.

Disc Pain is a Misnomer, but Pain may be Caused by the Disc

The vertebral discs are small, round pieces of cartilage that act as padding between each of the bones in your spine.  If damaged, it can restrict movement, including your ability to walk or stand properly.  Spinal disc issues typically develop over time, as the bones deteriorate.  Sudden trauma can also cause discogenic pain, and is often more painful and debilitating.

Lumbar Sprains/StrainsSprains occur in the body when excessive force is used, causing the muscles to overexert themselves.  The muscles act as a protective barrier to impending injury.  This type of strain on the muscles and tendons can lead to pain, discomfort, and swelling. Many clients complain about trouble sleeping or lying down, while other may feel sharp pains when walking or bending over. As you can imagine, this can greatly impact your ability to complete important tasks, or even walk across your home.

Disc Herniation

A hernia occurs when a soft tissue tears through a denser ligaments and the outer annular fibers of the vertebral disc.  Your spine is comprised of many little vertebrae, each separated by a cushion-like pad.  These pads are known as the discs, and when sudden force occurs, like that of a car accident, it can cause the disc to bulge, herniate or rupture.   For many patients, the rupture itself does not hurt, the pressure from the ruptured/bulging/herniated disc on the surrounding nerves can cause extreme discomfort.

Facet Joint Pain

The facet joints sit behind the vertebrae and are surrounded by a flexible membrane that produces a lubricating fluid that is crucial to facilitating your movements.

The facet joints are responsible for supporting your body’s weight and preventing you from moving your body in the wrong direction. For example, the facet joints allow you to move and twist your torso around but prevent you from bending fully in half. As with most of the spine, this area is filled with nerves. When you sustain an injury to the facet joints, it can be especially painful because of those nerves.

Facet joint pain often feels similar to discogenic pain, and it can be hard to diagnose without an experienced medical professional. Some symptoms include muscles spasms, which leads to further misalignment and neck/back pain.

The Importance of Doing Something About it

Where do you think your pain stems from?  Also, it’s important to note that with car wrecks the pain is usually sprain/strain and facet.

Have you recently started developing neck or lower back pain? If you have been in a car or truck accident, your pain may be related to the damages you sustained. In this case, we recommend contacting a licensed medical professional immediately. A proper diagnosis is essential, as improper treatment can cause your injury to get worse! An MRI, tomography, or x-ray can sometimes help doctors to determine the source of your pain and how best to treat it.

Even if you have mild pain it’s important to get checked by a chiropractor for musculoskeletal issues that may appear down the road.  Some more severe injuries may need surgery.  Chiropractic care, certain exercises, and even therapeutic massages will help in healing most car wreck victims.

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In an at Fault State?

South Carolina is an at fault state meaning there’s a ton of personal injury (car wreck) attorneys that will represent your case if you weren’t the at fault driver.  They work to coach you on your case against the at fault’s insurance company.  This is important to get right because medical bills, loss of work, etc can pile up following a car accident.  After an accident, you may need hospital care, chiropractic care, medication, injections and more.  Additionally, the emotional distress you can sustain from an incident like this can further add on to your stressful situation.