Delaying Treatment after Whiplash: Does it Matter?

It is inevitable that every person will ask one question when they get into a car accident: should I see a doctor? In most cases the answer is yes. But why is this important?

A collision between two vehicles imparts a considerable amount of force on the body and spine. Even in low speed collisions, the forces add up to several times the force of gravity. So what does this mean? It means your body generally cannot resist such large forces without being injured. These injuries may be minor, such as a muscle strain or more substantial, involving stretching of the disks and ligaments of the spine.

Important to Seek Medical Attention Immediately

Only if there is severe damage to tissues will you experience immediate pain after a collision. Having instant severe pain is in fact a good indicator that you suffered a severe trauma. In low speed collisions however, this type of instantaneous and intense pain may not be produced. Instead, the person may feel “shaken up” or a little stiff. This stiffness is unfortunately interpreted as nothing more than a muscle strain and patients do not seek medical or chiropractic attention.  Weeks can pass before you start to feel the effects of a whiplash injury. This is why it is important to see a doctor immediately to see if things are truly okay following an accident.

Treatment Delay can Impair Function Down the Road

Only a doctor can examine your spine, pressing on different structures and seeing if your movements are fluid, pain-free and symmetrical. This type of examination is very difficult for one to perform on their own. In addition, x-rays may be needed to see the posture and alignment of your cervical spine. If you had radiating pain or symptoms of a brain injury, then an MRI may also be needed to see the soft tissues that x-rays cannot detect.

Without these types of important examinations it is hard to say if you’ve been injured significantly following an accident. Treatment delay, if you have been injured, will not help to get you back to health quickly. In fact, if you limited your activities and neck movements, this could impair your function down the road. Simply taking pain medications to restore the alignment of your spine will not be enough.

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