What to expect after a car crash:
When you are in a car accident it can take up to ten days for your body to catch up with the injury. So keep track of your injuries as they arise over that span of time. You might discover that your neck hurts really bad within moments of the accident but two days later you start to notice you can’t move your wrist without pain, or you can’t sleep because your hip hurts when you try and lay on your side. These are all things that your health care team should know about. Common injuries from a car accident are whiplash, spinal sprains and strains, shoulder strains, wrist compressive injuries, ankle hyperextension injuries, knee contusions (bruising), and contusions to the chest and abdomen from the seat belt or worse if you weren’t wearing one. In severe cases, nerve damage, concussion, and internal bleeding are quite common. How bad the injuries are depends on a variety of factors. Some of these factors are inherent to you and some are inherent to how you were hit.
Cars are built to best protect you if you are hit from the front or back. If you are hit from the side there is no bumper or, in new designs, a built-in crumple zone, to crumple. The crumpling effect of the bumper is a shock absorber. This is a vital component in protecting you. Your seat belt is also less effective when you are hit from the side because your upper body can easily slide out of a seat belt when you are hit from the side. Not to mention, side air bag? Nope, they don’t exist in most cars*. On top of the car’s decreased ability to protect you from side impact the biomechanics of the spine are better suited for a front or back collision, not side collision.
Now for the human component of your injuries:
Every person is made a little different. Those that have a lot of muscle will fare better than those without much. Age will also play into how quickly you heal. Smoking is another aspect of your health that can impact your rate of recovery. Smokers have been found to heal at a slower rate than those that don’t smoke. Diabetics are also slower healers as well. However, even if you are in wonderful health, it can take a long time to heal from a car crash. The moderate car crash injury takes about six months to heal. Keep in mind that humans aren’t built to be hit by 4,000lb (the average weight of an American car). The long term effects of whiplash can be quit devastating so if you are young and “it wasn’t that bad” it will still behoove you to get yourself checked out and wait a few days before you sign anything. Again, you were just hit by 1807 lb (smart car) best case to potentially 6000 lb (a truck) or more if you were hit by a bus or semi. Think about how much it hurts when you just fall and hit the ground. How much do you weigh? Seat belts and bumpers go a long way to protect us but ultimately getting hit by a car is a big deal.
If the crash was really bad your first stop should be to the emergency room or a 911 call. They will want to check for internal bleeding, broken bones, and concussions. Things that will indicate that you need to go to the hospital are if you lost consciousness, you have immediate bruising, you are bleeding, or you have trouble moving anything. This list is not extensive so hopefully paramedics showed up and spoke to you about your need to go to the hospital. Once cleared of your hospital duties, go to your chiropractor. The sooner you go, the quicker you will heal. If you haven’t already gotten x-rays the chiropractor might send you out for these depending on the extent of the injuries. You will be examined from head to toe and asked many questions about the crash and past health history (ie: do you smoke?). Once you have been examined the chiropractor will start working on getting you realigned (if you need it). Typically you will see your chiropractor three times a week for a few weeks and as you get better the frequency of visits will decrease. You can expect your chiropractor to give you home exercises, refer you to a massage therapist, and/or a physical therapist.
Dealing with the paperwork:
Expect paperwork. There will be everything from police reports to medical forms. The chiropractic office you go to should be equipped to take care of your insurance for you. Car crashes cause headaches but so does dealing with insurance paperwork, so make sure you find a clinic that is well versed in this and supportive. Also make sure they are willing to talk you through any questions you have.