We all know someone who has been in a car accident and diagnosed with a cervical sprain or strain injury also referred to as whiplash. It can often have serious consequences depending on the severity of the impact. Whiplash is one of the most devastating injuries you can have to your cervical spine. There is rapid acceleration followed by a rapid deceleration movement that is powerful enough to tear muscles and ligaments, bruise soft tissue, and even herniate cervical discs. The worst part about it is the fact that this condition is often overlooked, and many symptoms do not begin to appear until hours, days or even weeks after the accident.
Most people think they are fine because they don’t feel pain. As symptoms begin to appear it may present itself in the form of radiculopathy pain. These symptoms can include pain or swelling in the face, neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. For some individuals they may also experience a loss of mobility depending on the severity of damage to the spine and surrounding tissues. This can be an indication of nerve damage and these symptoms need to be addressed quickly otherwise it can lead to long-term, chronic neck problems. When the nerves in the neck are compressed or “pinched,” this sends pain signals throughout the entire length of the nerve and is referred to as radiculopathy. When this occurs in the cervical spine, this means radiculopathy can extend to the face or hands. Therefore, an individual can suffer with pain in the face, neck, shoulder, arm, and hand numbness following a motor vehicle accident.
Chiropractors are trained to address these issues and follow the path of the radiculopathy which provides them with an understanding of the specific vertebrae that is involved. For example, if the C6 nerve root is affected you will have numbness around the thumb area. The key to treating radiculopathy is to look past the site of the pain and focus on its point of origin. Chiropractors who trace referred pain back to the origin, will be able to help the patient with treatment, even long after the accident.
Another contributing factor to radiculopathy can be a herniated disc. A herniated disc can be one reason behind nerve compression and nerve impulse disruption. By tracing radiculopathy pain back to the point of origin it can help pinpoint the involved vertebrae which is something chiropractors can assess with an examination but sometime further testing including spinal imaging, or a nerve conduction study is needed. If the vertebrae and corresponding disc are not addressed, the corresponding nerves will continue to suffer resulting in progressive symptoms. During the initial consultation, the chiropractic should review your history, asking questions about traumas including falls and car accidents. Traumas are a warning sign and the chiropractor will want to rule out potential injuries like whiplash. It is important to inform your doctor of any motor vehicle accidents, even minor fender benders. The scary fact is, a severe whiplash can occur even if the airbag doesn’t deploy and if the force being applied to your cervical spine is strong enough. It has been documented that a whiplash can occur at speeds as little as 5 miles per hour.
If you are experiencing symptomatic pain and had a recent trauma, it is important to get evaluated. It is important to address the problem in its early stages, before symptoms progress and lead to potential long-term damage. In my office, I am currently treating a patient who was involved in a car accident over 10 years ago and because it was not evaluated immediately, this person has chronic symptoms to this day. For more information, please visit our website at www.naturalspinesolutions.com or contact our office at 208-966-4425.
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Dr. Wayne M. Fichter Jr. is a chiropractor at Natural Spine Solutions. The business is located at 3913 Schreiber Way in Coeur d’Alene and the phone number is 208-966-4425.