Treating Back Injury After Car Accident or Fall Trauma
June 13, 2023
By Dr. Phillip Shaw
Crashes, collisions, slips, trips and falls. Pain is an inconvenience most of us can’t afford. So when we experience back injury after car accident or fall trauma, we often convince ourselves that, so long as there’s no pain or broken bones, we’re fine to move on with our regular routine.
You don’t need to learn Newton’s Laws of Motion to know that after a head-on, rear or side-impact collision your car stops, but your body continues moving until something — seat belt, airbag, steering wheel, windshield or ground — stops it. During a slip and fall, your body’s movement is similarly accelerated. But you may be surprised to learn that such abrupt, violent movement can injure your spine or joints — without causing immediate pain.
Even after an ER or urgent care professional rules out fractures or breaks, soft tissue microinjuries may be developing. Treating a back injury after a car accident or fall trauma is critical – whether you feel pain right after impact or not.
Our chances of getting into a car accident during a 1,000-mile trip are 1 in 366 and, according to the CDC, over one million Americans suffer a slip, trip, and fall injury every year. And many end up taking pain killers, which do not target the root cause of their pain — the main goal of chiropractic care.
A study published in Pain Magazine found that patients who saw chiropractors were over 60% less likely to fill an opioid prescription. Chiropractic care aims to minimize the damage and recovery time from back injury after car accident of fall trauma by supporting musculoskeletal alignment, strength and mobility.
Symptoms of Back Injury After Car Accident or Fall Trauma
Diagnosing back injury after car accident of fall trauma may require imaging
After an accident it’s common to be shaken up and sore all over, so you may not notice muscle trauma right away. Cervical vertebrae injuries from whiplash can cause headaches, dizziness, disorientation, and facet joint syndrome — the irritation or displacement of joint cartilage between two back vertebrae. Back injury after car accident or fall trauma is a leading contributor to facet joint syndrome, which can put you at risk of developing arthritis in your damaged tissue.
That’s why it’s important to track your pain — its quality, severity, frequency and the activities that increase it. Back injury after car accident or fall trauma can prompt symptoms like:
- Discomfort: a throbbing sensation or mild pain during daily tasks
- Stiffness: hyper-tense muscles and loss of flexibility
- Muscle spasms: either a twitching hard knot or mild to debilitating tenderness and throbbing
- Tingling: nerves pinched by tense muscles causing hand, arm, leg or foot tingling
- Burning: sudden searing pain shooting down your back, buttocks or legs
- Jabbing: sharp acute pain when changing positions
Experiencing a back injury after a car accident or fall trauma can make carrying laundry, groceries or children more difficult. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers will only mask the root cause of your pain. If left untreated, what began as slight aches or twinges could exacerbate into more serious symptoms, and ultimately, a longer recovery time.
Most Common Types of Back Injury After Car Accident Trauma
Back injury after car accident or fall trauma impacts all three sections of the spine
Your 33 spine bones, 31 nerve roots, and 32 neck and back muscles are supported and protected by tissues, ligaments and tendons, all of which can suffer a wide spectrum of injuries that imaging is not able to detect:
- Back sprains and strains
When the back tendons that connect bones to muscles stretch too thin you have a strain. When the ligaments that connect joints to bones or bones to other bones you have a sprain.
The three sections of your spine are all prone to distinct sprain and strain types.
- Lower back (lumbar vertebrae): Injuries are most common near these five vertebrae with their soft discs between them
- Upper back (thoracic vertebrae): though less common thanks to their rigid structure, damage to these 12 rib and chest-connected vertebrae can disrupt breathing and nerve signals, causing chronic pain
- Neck (cervical vertebrae): whiplash can damage these delicate vertebrae and soft tissue whiplash causing headaches and dizziness
These types of back injury after accident or fall trauma vary in severity and cannot be detected by x-rays or MRIs.
- Herniated discs
During a car accident or fall the protective discs between your vertebrae can shift, compressing a nerve and pushing the inner part of the spinal disc out through the outer ring. When this protruding portion of a herniated disc rubs against a nerve it can cause burning, numbness, or weakness.
When a stress fracture displaces a vertebra, it can compress the spinal canal or nerves causing varying levels of pain. Spondylolisthesis sufferers can also experience weakness, numbness or difficulty walking.
- Facet joint injuries
Facet joints allow us to bend or twist without damaging our spine. Nerve roots run through facet joints which are positioned between spine bones and run through various body parts like arms or legs. When cartilage thins out or a spine trauma goes untreated facet joints can get damages, tightening up muscles into a spasm, radiating pain or tenderness.
- Discogenic pain
Damaged spinal discs can cause sharp, abrupt pain or shooting sensations and may lead to sciatica pain radiating to the buttocks, feet, groin, or one or both legs. For some patients lying down causes more pain, while others find it difficult to sit or stand for extended periods.
Chiropractic Care for Back Injury
A Doctor of Chiropractic can analyze your misalignment and damage in detail to assess your mobility, flexibility and strength limitations then treat your injuries.
To restore your spinal alignment, improve posture while decreasing pain and muscle strain, and improve blood flow, your DC will gently resolve your body’s dysfunctions with:
Gentle, Low-Force-High-Velocity Adjustments
Depending on the severity of your back injury after car accident or fall trauma, you’ll either sit or lie down on a drop table. With either their hands or with an adjusting instrument your DC will deliver precise but gentle force into the joints that are misaligned to coax them into their natural position. The exact location of your misalignment is determined from x-rays that provide three-dimensional measurements.
To introduce a stimulus for “resetting” your misalignment, your DC will gently place your spine in the exact opposite position of your misalignment (the mirror image). Gradually this will retrain your spinal muscles to function properly.
For example, if your back is misaligned to the left, they will position it to the right before delivering your adjustment. They may use an adjusting instrument to “tap” in key areas of your spine — upper neck, back or hips — that were seen on your x-ray. This “tapping” sensation stimulates posture control centers in your brain to “reset” your spine back to normal alignment.
Drop Table Technique
Your chiropractor can also “reset” your spine on a chiropractic drop table with sections that are lowered during your adjustment. As your DC thrusts your joint, the affected area of your body is simultaneously dropped by the table. This technique allows for more gradual and gentle adjustments.
Wondering where to find a Doctor of Chiropractic who’s spent years treating back injury after car accident or slip-and-fall trauma?
Check in with your nearest Chiro One doctor at one of our welcoming open-plan clinics. They’ll perform a thorough exam to investigate the root cause of your pain, then personalize your care plan — a combination of gentle chiropractic adjustments and active therapies to keep you feeling better longer.
Find a Chiro One doctor near you.