When a person is involved in a car accident, the inevitable question comes up: 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.
Will these injuries always cause pain right after the collision? Only if there is severe damage to tissues will you experience immediate pain after a collision. In fact, having instant severe pain is a good indicator that you suffered a severe trauma. But most low speed collisions do not produce this type of instantaneous and intense pain. Instead, the person may feel "shaken up" or a little stiff. Unfortunately many patients interpret this stiffness as nothing more than a simple muscle strain and do not seek medical or chiropractic attention. Up to two weeks can go by 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 ok following an accident.
Only a doctor can examine your spine, pressing on different structures and seeing if your movements are fluid, pain-free and symmetrical. You will find it difficult to do this type of examination on yourself. 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.