Have you ever been involved in an auto accident? This is a question we ask constantly because auto accidents, or a motor vehicle crash (MVC), contribute to number of problems. It is obvious that severe MVC’s can cause neck pain, headaches, back pain, broken bones, cuts and bruises. Did you know, though, severe crashes can also cause brain injuries, disc herniation, burns, dizziness, post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, and worsen the curve of your neck. Did you also know that “minor” or low speed crashes can cause many of these things as well. I bet you, or someone you know, was involved in a low speed crash and mentioned not having any pain afterwards. If pain is not present at the time of the crash this doesn’t mean that pain you experience hours to days later isn’t due to the crash. It is also likely that you can experience pain or continued pain years after a crash.
Chronic pain is a huge problem in the US and the World today. In the US estimates are that 100 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain, compare that to 25.8 million Americans with diabetes, 16.3 million Americans with coronary heart disease, and 11.9 million Americans with cancer. In the world the estimate is at 1.5 billion people suffer from chronic pain. The cause of chronic pain is quite diverse and include some severe issues such as cancer. Chronic pain is pain that lasts for over three months but can persist even years past the initial injury. It is also pain, in the same location, that comes and goes for decades. Many of our chronic pain patients have similar stories, they had an initial injury many years prior but the pain went away after a couple of weeks. Then a few years later the pain came back, was a little worse than before, and lasted a little longer before going away. Then after a few more years the pain came back, with even greater severity than before and didn’t go away, this is when they see us. We can help a lot of patients but the patient who comes in with their first instance of back or neck pain is far easier to help than the patient who waited 15 years to get that pain checked.
I didn’t really want to get into a description of chronic pain but I felt it was necessary to lay the foundation of the issue which is an untreated or poorly treated injury after a car crash. As I mentioned, a car crash can cause a wide range of problems whether it is a major crash or a minor one. When you are not treated properly after a crash, it is very likely your problem will become chronic. According to this study published in 2006, these authors found that 45% of people with chronic neck pain could attribute the cause to a previous car crash. Neck pain isn’t the only problem, this study published in April 2017 found that being in a previous car crash was a major cause of chronic lower back pain. I am not sure if I should share this study but I think it is very important and should help hit home what a car crash can do to your health and well being. This study published in January 2016 found that, even for a grade II whiplash injury, a deteriorated quality of life remained up to 5 years after a car crash.
Let me dissect that last study a bit. Injuries after a car crash are typically called a whiplash injury, this is a poor term that we don’t really use anymore in healthcare. It is still commonly in discussion with the public. There is a grading system of whiplash injuries which span from grade I through grade V, grade I being the least severe and grade V meaning surgery is necessary to stabilize the spine. When this study says that there was a deterioration in quality of life for a grade II injury, how much more is that going to be for a grade III, IV, and of course a grade V. How about that term too, deteriorated quality of life, I don’t know anyone who wants to have that. A car crash is an injury that will affect your life for years to come, how much will depend on getting appropriate care immediately after the injury.
The take away from this post should be, if you are ever involved in a motor vehicle crash you need to see someone about it. Even if you think it was a minor crash, it is important to at least discuss this with a physician preferably a chiropractic physician because we tend to manage musculoskeletal pain better than other physicians. Getting the right care, early, will help reduce your likelihood of developing chronic pain and experiencing a deterioration in your quality of life.