The most common injury from a
car accident is "whiplash," short for "flexion/extension cervical injury."
Whiplash is the subject of bad jokes and sometimes, bad TV ads. But it
is a very real injury for those who experience it. When an occupant of
a motor vehicle is strapped into that steel compartment and that motor
vehicle is struck (usually from behind) by another car going 20 mph or
more, the seatbelt will immediately hold the hips and upper torso tightly
against the seat, but nothing holds the head. It snaps back and forth
like a whip (thus the short hand name for the event and resulting injury).
Necks were not designed to withstand this kind of trauma. Muscles and
ligaments of the neck stretch, sometimes breaking muscle fibers. This
condition is like a "strain"—think of how painful an ankle
strain can be. Sometimes muscles and ligaments of the upper back and shoulders
are also stretched and "strained". Sometimes the bony spine
gets jarred, pushing a piece of bone onto a nerve.
Primary Care Doctors and Car Accident Cases
One of the first doctors seen by the car accident patient, after the emergency
room doctor, is often the primary care doctor, or family doctor. Primary
care doctors have one solution to car accident injuries: prescriptions
for muscle relaxants and pain pills with a referral to physical therapy
if no improvement in a "few weeks." Sometimes that is all that
is needed to recover from an auto injury, but often the pain and disability
persist and the patient feels that they should have been better and, since
they are not, there is no hope for recovery.
Seeing a Chiropractor After a Car Accident
Some persons injured in car accidents will first seek treatment with a
chiropractor, especially if they have participated in chiropractic care
in the past. Chiropractic care is similar to physical therapy and may
assist some to recover from their car accident injury. The difficult part
is to know whether the chiropractor will honestly tell you if his or her
treatment is making you better—or whether it is making you worse.
The best outcomes will be for those who treat with their prior chiropractors,
with whom they have an honest and respectful relationship. Unfortunately,
insurance companies who pay car accident injury claims devalue chiropractic
care when they pay these claims, so it is best for an auto injury patient
who is not recovering with chiropractic care after three or four months
to thank the chiropractor, but then seek other kinds of medical care for
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Doctors
The good news is that there actually are
specialists in the medical profession who deal with car accident injuries. These doctors
are called Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation doctors. They study for
this specialty in medical school and pass exams to certify that they are
qualified to assess and treat traumatic muscle injuries such as ones from
car accidents. Physical medicine doctors treat sports injuries as well
as injuries from car accidents, or other accidents. These specialists
have lots of "tools" to treat car accident injuries, from prescribing
specific medications to injecting various medications into muscles to
calm the pain and promote muscle healing. These specialists also work
closely with "manual medicine" providers, who provide physical
therapy or chiropractic specifically to manipulate injured the muscles
and joints to promote pain relief and healing.
Physical medicine doctors also know when the injury is not just in the
muscle or joint, but may also be coming from a damaged nerve in the spine.
They are trained to administer nerve conduction tests to determine if
nerves in the neck or back are causing the pain and dysfunction, and to
then identify those nerves and where they may be damaged. Physical medicine
doctors then can refer car accident patients for further diagnostic tests,
such as an MRI, if needed, or to other specialists such as orthopedic
doctors or neurologists or pain management doctors that may be needed
for evaluation or treatment of all or part of the car accident injury.
The physical medicine doctor can act something like the "family doctor"
for the car accident injury patient—identifying the physical condition
and then sending the patient to the best doctor to treat that condition.
Choose the Right Doctor for You
It is important for the car accident injury patient to know that there
are lots of options to treat an auto injury—but the patient will
often need to investigate these options on his own and seek out the car
accident specialist to help with an auto injury that is just not getting
better. While your health insurance company will have a list of specialists
who are on your plan, there is no way for the car accident injury patient
to know which specialists are the ones who get the best results for their
patients. This is one service that an experienced car accident or personal
injury attorney can provide. Attorneys working in the community over many
years know which doctors help their clients the best and can help identify
for the car accident injury patient which doctors on the insurance list
would offer the best road to recovery for them.