Getting in a car accident can be one of the most painful events in a person’s life. The human frame was not designed to be able to withstand the impact of two speeding metal cages. Although the obvious injuries from car accidents are broken bones, torn ligaments, etc: there are some musculoskeletal injuries that are common from car accidents that sometimes are overlooked or mislabeled. The danger of ignoring these injuries is that irreversible damage can be done by letting the injuries start to create permanent changes to your body. In this article, we will discuss the three most common car accident injuries, what they are, what the symptoms are, and how they’re treated.
One of the most common injuries from car accidents is whiplash. You may have actually experienced this injury from other activities or events but it is very common for car accidents. The reason we often see whiplash in car accident patients is because of the sudden change of momentum in colliding cars that we describe as acceleration and deceleration.
Acceleration & Deceleration
Whiplash comes from rapid acceleration and deceleration of the neck. What this means is that the neck is forced into an extreme rapid action of flexion and extension. This causes an immense amount of nerve irritation and inflammation in the neck.
Usually, the pain you are experiencing from whiplash has to do with one of the directions or positions your neck was forced. The symptoms involve a significant amount of discomfort or pain when the neck is in that same direction or position.
The extreme directional nature of whiplash allows for a directional preference to be used in the treatment process. Depending on the patient’s severity the goal is to slowly find their directional preference, or the direction or position that causes them relief, not pain, and perform exercising involving that preference. The goal of the treatment is to rid the area of inflammation by working in the direction of relief.
“Herniated disc” is one of those injury buzzwords when it comes to car accidents and other musculoskeletal injuries. Oftentimes people are told they have herniated discs when really it is a disc bulge and vice versa. We will explain the difference and what they mean.
What a Disc is and How It Gets Herniated
The spinal column is made up of 33 vertebrae with discs in between. Think of these discs as jelly donuts: they have a tough outer layer with a gel-like core. When we are talking about a disc herniation, what that means is that some of the gel-like core has broken through the outer layer of the disc. That is like biting into your jelly donut and the jelly spilling out of the other end! A disc bulge is when the gel-like substance is pushing against the outer layer but has not broken through fully. These injuries can cause an immense amount of pain.
So how does the disc’s inside core breaking through the outside layer cause so much pain? If you have read our other blogs you know that inflammation and pain is caused through nerve irritation. Your spinal column is a motherboard of nerves that control virtually your entire body. When the gel-like core is pushed through the outside layer of your disc it pushes against nerves and actually “pinches” them up against a bone structure. This is why a “pinched nerve” is the number one symptom of a disc herniation.
The treatment for disc herniations varies by the severity of your herniation. If your disc is bulged, or the gel-like center hasn’t fully broken through the outside layer but is pushing against it, recovery can be reached through treatment and therapy. If you have a fully herniated it may require surgery in some cases. This involves a surgeon going into the area to clean up the gel-like core that has erupted and repair the break in the outer layer of the disc.
Another common injury from auto accidents and musculoskeletal injuries, in general, is Cervicogenic Headaches. Although you may have never heard this term before we can almost guarantee that you have experienced them.
The Relationship Between Headaches and Pain
The spinal column and skull meet at a very delicate point. When your neck and or cervical spine have undergone serious damage the inflammation that occurs starts to create radiating pain that can reach up into your skull. This pain is caused by nerve irritation in the area and can turn into a chronic condition if left untreated.
When you are experiencing cervicogenic headaches you may feel a hyper-focused or radiating pain. Many people describe the pain as throbbing. Most of us at one point in our lives have experienced these symptoms but never knew what it was from. The reason we sometimes describe the pain as traveling or radiating is because the nerve that is irritated is traveling in the exact same position. The only way to recover from this pain is to reduce inflammation.
Some of the best treatments for cervicogenic headaches are hands-on manual therapy. Chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and massages have both been found to reduce the inflammation and nerve irritation in the neck from cervicogenic headaches. Assuming that no significant nerve damage has been done many times these treatment methods are able to bring the patient to full rehabilitation.
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