Sadly, car accidents are a common occurrence – thankfully, most of them aren’t serious and more often than not we walk away without much more than a dent in our wallets. At least, we think we do – even at low speed, car accidents can cause injuries that take some time to appear.
Car accidents are always unpleasant, and for most of us they conjure up an image of a confrontation with another driver. While a collision within another moving vehicle is the most significant type of accident, it’s not the most common, however. Most of us have probably backed into a post or something similar and thought nothing of it – perhaps a scratch on the bumper and no harm done. This isn’t always quite true, however – the weight of your vehicle combined with motion and speed can create a tremendous amount of force which, even at low speed, gets transferred to the body as you come to a rapid stop.
In fact, even accidents that don’t occur – those “near misses” where you break sharply just in time can end up causing injury. The most common injuries after a car accident happen because your head is whipped backwards and forward very quickly, so even if you slam on the breaks the same motion can occur. This rapid back and forth motion frequently results in ligament tearing and spinal disc injuries.
Symptoms such as neck pain, back pain, headaches, confusion, and even depression may indicate that you’ve suffered a whiplash injury but may not show up until weeks after the accident itself. Shoulder and head injuries are the next most common – head injuries tend to arise from actually impacting part of the vehicle, but shoulder injuries are easy to suffer as the highly flexible joint is strained in ways it is not ideally suited to handle.
Common car accident injuries, and how we can help
You may be surprised to learn that shoulder injuries are some of the most common injuries after a car accident in addition to whiplash – your shoulder is one of the most complex parts of your body and is made up of a collection of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. If you are the driver and have your hands on the wheel at the time of the crash, the sudden force created by the accident can easily be transferred through your arms and lead to a torn rotator cuff.
Thankfully, most shoulder injuries are easy to treat – even if the process isn’t always the quickest. For soft tissue injuries, it’s advisable to see a sports therapist, or similar professional, while chiropractic could also be helpful in resolving an long term imbalances. You should of course seek immediate medical help if you’re unable to move your shoulder at all!
Seat Belt related injuries
Seat belt related injuries are also some of the most common injuries after a car accident – while seat belts save lives every single way, their job is to reduce and distribute force while preventing you from being thrown out of the vehicle. This is different from absorbing the force – hence, your body is still taking a shock even when wearing a seatbelt. Your seat belt can irritate impingement syndromes in the shoulder and contribute to other spinal injuries and strains during a crash, although these are far preferable to not wearing one!
An associated issue is that even when wearing a belt, your arms and legs are more than likely unsecured, meaning that they can strike the interior of your car, causing additional injuries.
In most cases superficial injuries to arms and legs will heal on their own, if you’re in severe pain you should of course see a medical professional, but some bruising may well be the reality of a car accident. After an accident you should, however, be mindful of the fact that your spine has been subjected to significant force, even if protected by a seatbelt. It’s an excellent idea to get a chiropractic checkup sooner rather than later to prevent small issues with the spine from potentially developing over time.
As a rule, if you’ve suffered a head injury during a collision you should seek medical help. If you’ve suffered a concussion, or have been unconscious at any point you’ll certainly need to see a doctor right away. Severe impacts to the head can lead to traumatic brain injuries which need specialist care – if you’ve had an injury like this please go to your GP, not the chiropractor!
Once you’ve been cleared by a medical professional, however, chiropractic can be an excellent tool in helping you to recover from any lingering pain associated with an impact injury.
Over 1.5 million whiplash injuries occur each year – and, funnily enough, many from low impact collisions.
Research does show that low-speed crashes can create the force necessary to cause pain and injury, and because these injuries can be sustained in collisions other than car accidents and can occur at low speeds, many people often ignore them and have never learned how to recover from whiplash.
Whiplash accidents typically cause damage to the ligaments of the neck, and adhesions in the facet joints which form part of the spine – typical symptoms are mild pain and neck stiffness, as well as bruising, but it’s not uncommon for these symptoms to take at least 24 hours to appear.
Minor whiplash injuries often benefit greatly from chiropractic care, but perhaps the most important way we can help right after a possible whiplash incident is by taking a holistic approach to examining your spine – as a chiropractor, we look at the injured muscles, ligaments, discs, and more when making a diagnosis, and can make use of X-rays or other imaging techniques to discover how best to support you in recovery from your injury – even if that means referring you to another practitioner.
Ignoring any injury, whether it’s on our list of the most common injuries after a car accident or not, is not a good idea. If you’re in a car accident, no matter how minor, it’s important to get evaluated.
Taking the right action steps as quickly as possible can make a huge difference in your overall well-being and healing, no matter how big or small your injury might be.
 The Impact of Musculoskeletal Injuries Sustained in Traffic Crashes. BMC. 2018.
 The Treatment of Neck Pain and Whiplash-Associated Disorders. JMPT. 2016.