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 the injuries.
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.