So You Have Suffered A Whiplash, Now What?
AT THE VERY LEAST READ JUST THIS PARAGRAPH!
I know that the last thing that you want to do after being in a car accident is to read something. If you are like the thousands of patients that I have treated following an auto accident, you are tired because you are not sleeping well, or maybe you went to the E.R. or your family physician following your accident and you are taking medicines that make you drowsy. Besides that, you are in pain. You most likely have a headache, and what is known as “Brain fog” associated with the injuries that you have sustained. But there are things that you need to know! This is critical for your health and financial well being. So if you do not want to read this, I understand. Give it to your spouse or significant other, or a friend that cares for you and have them read this for you.
This Is A Big Deal!
One of the most common problems with an auto accident is that people will down play your injuries. If you go to the emergency room after your accident, they will be looking for injuries that are an immediate threat to your life. Things like fractures or dislocations, ruptured organs or internal bleeding, or head injuries and concussions. If none of these things are present, they will release you with a prescription for pain and tell you that you are ok. “You have suffered a mild / moderate / severe whiplash, and will be ok.” is something that they might tell you. In their thinking, you have “just hurt some soft tissues in your musculoskeletal system”. They are right about what you have injured, but they are wrong with their dismissive attitude about your injuries. Let’s look at the “soft tissues” that they are talking about.
Ligaments are a “soft tissue”. Ligaments are the primary supporting soft tissue of each joint. Ligaments are made up of strong, non-elastic (will not stretch) tissue that connects one bone in a joint to another. These tissues resist linear stress (pulling) in one direction only.
This is why a joint in the body will have ligaments going from bone to bone in many different directions.
This will resist movement in all directions, and with attachments to other surrounding bony structures, it will also resist the bones moving too close to each other.
Muscle is a “soft tissue”. Muscle is the secondary support structure to a joint. It is a strong elastic (will stretch) and contractile (will pull against the bone) tissue. It lies over the ligaments.
Within the ligaments are nerve cells that sense tension on the ligament. The ligament has a limit to how much stress (pull) it can resist before it is damaged, and so when it gets close to that limit it sends a message to the spinal cord, where the message passes over to a nerve fiber that controls the muscle in that joint and that message is sent back down to the muscles telling them to contract to back up the ligaments.
In an automobile accident, the forces that are applied to your body happen in 1/300th of a second, which is faster than your body is able to react. The ligaments get damaged before the muscles contract. So with the primary support of the joint gone, or at least diminished in its ability to resist stress, the joint will then move incorrectly, and with the subsequent muscle contraction the joint will be pulled out of alignment.
Due to the tearing (which may be microscopic) of the ligament, bleeding will occur and inflammation will set in. The inflammatory chemicals are an irritant to the nerve endings in and around the joint and therefore cause pain. The muscles now are in a state of permanent contraction called guarding, which reduces blood flow in the area and diminishes the ability of the body to move the inflammatory fluids out of the area.
Nerves are a “soft tissue”. The nerves in the body control and coordinate all of the functions in the body. In a whiplash injury, the joints that are involved are usually the joints of the spine. These joints surround and protect the spinal cord. Nerves exit the spinal cord and go out to the body through openings in the joints of the spine. Damage to the support structure of the joints of the spine alter the alignment of those joints and that change along with the inflammatory fluids that are built up in the area can damage the nerves, and their ability to communicate with the organs or tissues that they go to.
Meninges are a “soft tissue”. Meninges are a tough connective tissue like ligaments that surround the brain and spinal cord. These meninges are connected to the bones of the spine (vertebrae). Damage to the joints causing misalignment can cause torsion on the meninges which can then suffer damage and with scaring will alter the flow of fluid in the spinal canal and affect the function of the central nervous system.
Now that we have looked at some of the “soft tissues” that are damaged in an automobile accident, can you see why it is important not to be dismissive of these injuries? Now let’s look at what happens if these injuries are not treated properly.
As healing takes place in a damaged joint, the body will lay down connective tissue in and around the joint. This is laid down in a haphazard way, which if allowed to will end up as a thick non functioning mass of tissue. This mass of tissue will have more pain sensing nerve fibers than normal tissue, and will prevent the normal movement of the joint around which it forms.
The joint around which the scarring takes place is most likely misaligned from the injury, and therefore will be locked in this misaligned formation.
Due to this, the joint will move improperly and lead to more rapid degeneration. As it degenerates, it will apply more pressure to the nerves passing through the joint. This will affect the function of the organs or tissues that those nerves go to.
So this “soft tissue” injury, if left alone and untreated will lead to crippling pain and dysfunction later in life.
The sad thing is that once you have let it go, and the degeneration is set in getting it fixed is difficult, sometimes painful, and expensive. And at that point, your automobile insurance will no longer cover it.
What Should You Do?
Get checked by an Auto Accident Occupant Injury Specialist right away. Now is the time to get these “soft tissue” injuries treated. Now, while the scarring is not set in, and you have insurance coverage, get checked. But don’t just go to anybody. Make sure that you are seen by a certified specialist, someone who has devoted time and effort to gain extra education on finding injuries, documenting injuries, and treating injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
My Accident Was Just A Little Bump.
Often we think in terms of damage to the car. If there is none or very little damage visible on the car we tend to think that there is no way that we could have been hurt. On the contrary! Our modern day vehicles are designed to crumple in high speed collisions. This crumpling adds to what is known as the “ramping down time”. This is the amount of time from the very first second of impact to when all movement stops. The longer this ramping down time, the less likely you are to be injured. Remember the muscles need this time to react and help to protect the joints. In a low speed impact, our cars do not crumple, and therefore the ramping down time is very short. All of the force of that 3000 Lbs. vehicle traveling at only 9 MPH is transferred to you in the car. None of it is absorbed by the crumpling of the vehicle. This very short ramping down time causes a rapid change in your velocity. In other words, you go from 0 to 9 Mph in 1/300th of a second. In that short period of time, your head whips violently back and forth or side to side with enough “G” force to make your head weigh 13 times its normal weight. That is easily enough to damage ligaments, muscles, meninges, and nerves. It happens so fast that you would even swear that you didn’t move.
I Don’t Want My Insurance Rates To Go Up.
Insurance rates will not be effected, especially if you are not at fault. Because we live in a “No Fault” state, your insurance will be the one billed even if you are not at fault.
Will Insurance Pay For All of My Care?
The minimum personal injury protection required by law in Utah is $3000. Most people have just the minimum. If you are going to need more care than your minimum coverage, you can hire an attorney at no charge to you to get your necessary care covered.
I don’t want to sue my Insurance Company and seem greedy.
Hiring an attorney to represent you is a smart thing to do. Remember, when you file a claim, it is not your friendly insurance agent that lives in your neighborhood that you will be dealing with. You will be dealing with an adjuster whom you have never met, and who’s soul purpose is to keep the money in the company hoppers. A good personal injury attorney is not an “Ambulance Chaser”, but is there to help you. You will have no out of pocket expense with an attorney, because they will represent you on a contingency. If they do not recover any money for you, then they do not get paid. Remember, its not about getting rich or getting even, its all about protecting you and your rights.