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Auto Accidents and Spinal Disk Injuries

Understanding the Link Between Auto Accidents and Spinal Disc Injuries

Automobiles are wonderful things. They give us a degree of freedom that was undreamed of even a few generations ago. They allow us to travel from place to place in a short amount of time and in relative comfort. Unfortunately, they also occasionally run into solid objects or into each other.

When this happens, "relative comfort" flies out the window, as does anything not secured by a seat belt. The only thing that matters during the fraction of a second that it takes for an auto accident to happen are the laws of physics—in particular, the law that says, "Objects in motion tend to remain in motion." If you're traveling down the highway at 60 miles per hour and your car suddenly stops as the result of running into something, your body is going to try to remain traveling at 60 miles per hour. And it’s going to do that until either it runs into something or is restrained by a seat belt or an inflatable airbag. No matter how strong they make automobiles and no matter how well-designed the safety equipment inside is, the physical forces encountered during an auto accident are going to be Traumatic, with a capital T.

Let’s look at one example.  What happens to your head and neck when your body attempts to continue moving forwards at 60 miles per hour and is restrained by your seat belt? Well, they attempt to continue moving, and the result is a snapping motion that can cause fractures to your cervical (neck) vertebrae. Even if fractures don't occur, the forces of shear, tension, head rotation, and rapid extension, quickly followed by an equally violent flexion are going to create a wave motion that can cause what has come to be known as whiplash. Whiplash injuries can occur in rear-end collisions in which the automobile is traveling as slowly as 10 miles per hour.

Neck injuries from front- and rear-impact auto collisions cost Americans more than $29 billion per year to treat. And the potential harm isn’t limited to the neck. The forces at play also subject your facet joints, ligaments, muscles, soft tissues, and spinal vertebrae to enormous pressures, which can cause a wide variety of injuries. If your spinal disks have already been weakened by degeneration (a common condition often encountered as people age, but also accelerated by lifestyle choices and injury), an accident can cause them to become herniated. If the impact of the accident is strong enough to collapse the framework of the car, more injuries can occur as the result of being crushed.

Injuries caused by auto accidents can last a lifetime, and they may not appear immediately after the collision. Weeks or months later, you can begin to experience sudden and unexpected aches and pains as well as loss of mobility surrounding the injured joints, vertebrae, muscles, and tendons. This can result in chronic pain and disability.

Fortunately, chiropractors have years of specialized training and experience that help them successfully diagnose and treat musculoskeletal injuries caused by auto accidents. They can use a wide variety of chiropractic techniques to adjust your spine and other joints to help them move back into positions of proper alignment following a collision. Depending on your specific situation, even herniated disks may be treated, either through hands-on spinal manipulation or through other spinal traction or decompression techniques.  Most chiropractors are also skilled at physiotherapy and rehabilitation and can recommend exercises that will help your damaged muscles and tendons regain their strength. Massage therapy can often help with pain management and speed the healing process. While many approaches in traditional medicine tend to treat pain by covering it up with medication, chiropractic physicians address the source of the pain directly.

Hopefully you’ll never be involved in a serious auto accident or experience the kinds of traumatic injuries that an accident can cause. But if you do have a car accident (or if you were involved in one months or even years ago and still "just don't feel right"), you should certainly consider seeing a chiropractor. A chiropractic physician can provide you with the "hands-on" treatment you need to recover as quickly and completely as possible, and can offer exercise, nutrition and other lifestyle advice to help your body heal itself.