A common misconception with car accident injuries is that “if there’s not much car damage then there can’t be much damage to the person”. This is completely false for a number of reasons. Let me give you an example of why this statement is completely untrue. If you’re looking to buy a dozen eggs, what’s the first thing you do when you pick up a carton before you buy them? Almost without exception, you’ll open the carton and check for cracked eggs. Why don’t you just look at the carton for any potential damage? Because the carton design purpose is to absorb shock to protect the eggs which are MUCH MORE FRAGILE than the carton.
Most chiropractors understand this. That’s why we take x-rays of patients. Sometimes the damage is not always obvious. This is also the case with patients involved in “low-speed” car accidents or car accidents that do not result in a lot of car damage. Your spine and the muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc. are more fragile that the car itself. It’s actually very common for someone in a car accident to have very little or NO damage to their car but significant damage to their spine. The reason for this is because the majority of your body is strapped in tight via your seatbelt. Your head, however, has no such restraint to protect it. This is why whiplash induced injuries are so common.
Whiplash induced deaths have decreased greatly due to air bags and head rests. However, there is a lot of potential for a quick acceleration and deceleration of your head (known as whiplash) if your car is hit by another car. Even though there is not obvious damage to the car if the collision caused your body to quickly move in one direction with the car (because you’re strapped in) your head and neck can be injured. This happens because your head is going to stay in the same place in space. There is nothing holding your head in place to bring it with the car like your body is held in place with a seatbelt. This is why your head is quickly snapped backward. It’s because your body (if hit from behind) is quickly pushed forward because of another 2,500 lbs. or more mass of metal and fiberglass hit you.
Even if they were only going 10-15mph, that’s a lot of force because of the weight of the car. This is why getting hit by a larger vehicle like a bus or semi can cause a LOT more damage to your car and you. The more weight, the more force, the more your car will move. Taking your body with it and leaving your head to get pulled along to catch up. Once your head does catch up, you quickly move from immediate acceleration to a quick deceleration where you head is moving forward past the position of your body.
This is why every race car driver wears a neck brace while driving. This protects their neck from these types of whiplash motions. They wear these to prevent death due to whiplash induced injuries. However, there is a large area of potential injuries that exist between death and no injury. This area is often where a lot of whiplash induced injuries go undiagnosed.
This quick acceleration and deceleration kind of motion called whiplash, adds a great deal more force to your spine. Think of it like snapping a wet towel. You can try to hit someone with a wet towel and they’ll laugh at you. If you try and snap that same towel with what is essentially a whiplash motion, you can do some real damage.
Having a tow bar on the car that was hit, increases the risk of chronic symptoms by 22%. In the car with a tow-bar, a crash dummy was exposed to a 33% higher peak acceleration (due to the whiplash motion) in the lower neck, 8.9g, compared to the 6.7g force in a car without a tow-bar. The stiffer the vehicle is, the quicker and further it will be pushed in the direction of impact. Bumpers are made to absorb impact to prevent more damage to the car and passengers. Having a tow-bar means a stiffer point of impact and that your bumper will likely not absorb any of the force. Meaning there is more force moving your body forward and thus more acceleration and deceleration in the whiplash forces on your neck.
Another study found that the direction in which the car engine is mounted in the car causing the impact also increased the risk of chronic symptoms. This is just another example showing how important it is to not oversimplify these very complicated types of injuries. There are practically infinite factors that can affect the severity of whiplash in a car accident. These factors are far more complicated that just how much damage is done to the vehicle. Not to mention the fact that the estimated dollar amount that the officer puts on the car accident report is often grossly inaccurate. He or she is a cop, not an experienced mechanic. Even if they were, there is no research showing that the monetary value of car damage is in any way related to the severity of injuries that are sustained in a car accident.
Do yourself a favor and find a thorough and competent chiropractor that is capable of evaluating and treating whiplash induced injuries. The best type of chiropractor for this is going to be a structurally focused chiropractor.
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