“Minor” Car Accident?
A week doesn’t go by that a new practice member comes into our office, and upon health review deny any past traumas. Upon viewing something unexpected on their x-rays, I’ll often inquire further, with the client suddenly remembering that they were rear-ended a few years ago. So, once again, I get to share this experience.
I was in my final year of Chiropractic school at Palmer and I was taking care of a student from another local university. She had left town for summer break and upon returning came back to the clinic to resume care, “Pick up where I left off” she said. I asked if anything had happened during her 3 months away that I needed to know about and she replied “no, not really. I was rear-ended, but it was really minor. My bumper and trunk were a little banged up, but the airbags didn’t even go off.” Being the good student that I was, I began the process of re-examining and let the radiology lab know we’d be over shortly. The questions I asked let me know all the ins and outs of the event, but a few keys to this accident stood out:
- Her drivers seat seemed to have suffered some damage because afterward it didn’t sit up as straight as it did prior
- She recalled her head hitting the headrest, but denied any neck pain or headache following the incident
- She had the required estimates in to the responsible parties’ insurance company within days and a check for the damage was issued very soon after
- Toward the end of the summer she began having headaches unlike any she’s had prior, but reported it as unrelated to the car accident
This wasn’t my first time working with someone involved in a car accident, but it was my first opportunity to do so when I had examined and been taking care of them before, and now subsequent to, the accident. The initial exam I had performed about 6 months prior warranted a set of neck x-rays and I recall remarking that she had a very nice curve in her neck and all of her discs appeared healthy. It was essentially the neck that any 20-year-old would hope to have. Now, just 2 months after her “minor” accident I was looking at the x-rays we had just taken and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The healthy, natural curve we’d seen initially hadn’t just diminished, it had actually reversed. A change of over 30 degrees! Even worse there was a thinning disc between two of her lower neck veterbrae and a small spur had started to form.
As I reviewed the findings with my supervising doc I recall him getting on his computer and pulling up a site called GOOGLE (first time I’d ever seen that site…showing my age) and we reviewed study after study that showed that whiplash injuries can happen at speeds as low as 5mph. Most cars have bumpers designed to withstand impacts of 10mph with no damage at all. Once a whiplash type injury (sprain/strain) happens, motion loss resulting from inflammation in the area can lead to scar tissue (bone spurs) in only a few weeks.
This is exactly what I had witnessed in my young patient! Completely healthy 20-year-old gets in a minor fender bender, denies any medical treatment at the scene and feels fine for several weeks. During which time that injury process is going on without her even knowing it. Meanwhile, the visibly damaged car is paid for by the at-fault parties’ insurance company and the case is considered closed. Now several weeks or months later headaches begin that were likely caused by the accident, but because of the time that has passed the dots aren’t connected and this patient is going to spend their own time, energy and money trying to take care of something that should have been the responsibility of the at-fault party.
The thorough services we offer and exams that we perform in our office include studies such as rolling thermography, sEMG (surface electromyleograph) and HRV (heart rate variability) that can let us know if your body is injured even when you might not feel it. There are certainly times that someone is involved in a minor accident and they truly are just fine, but more often than not the tests show that the body has been injured from the accident and the insurance company’s job is to get both your vehicle and you back to pre-injury status.
Even if your car wasn’t damaged, you feel fine or the police weren’t even called, it’s wise to get a check-up and make certain there aren’t any underlying issues resulting. Do please make certain the doctor is using objective screening tools as mentioned previously and not just asking where it hurts. If you have questions about this from a legal stand point consulting a PI attorney can help assist you in fully understanding your options.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Life Refined Chiropractic for their insight into medical recourse after a car accident.