Joel L. Buckner, D.C., C.C.I.C., C.C.E.P.
387 Haywood Lane
Nashville, TN 37211

What You Need to Know After Being Injured in a Car Accident

Most injuries are strains and sprains of connective tissues, that is, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. These are not usually critical types of life threatening injuries but can cause persistent pain and disability if not treated properly. Surgery is not usually required for the vast majority of these injuries.

But, if you have immediate pain after an accident or develop severe symptoms, it is important to be examined at an emergency room to make sure there is not a more critical type of injury.

The best care for most strain/sprain injuries is the opposite of care for a broken bone. Instead of immobilizing the injuries in casts, they heal better and faster with gentle hands on chiropractic manual therapy to keep them flexible while healing so torn fibers re-align and regain normal function as much as possible. This way they are less likely to heal with scar tissue stiffness that can restrict motion, cause recurring symptoms, and may lead to post-traumatic arthritis.This manual therapy by a chiropractor can reduce pain, spasms, and inflammation and help bring about a good recovery from the injury.

Very mild injuries may only need self care instructions but mild to moderate injuries usually need care to heal properly. Very severe injuries may need surgical evaluation.

Basic healing takes about 6 weeks or so but remodeling of the damaged tissues back to near normal can take up to a year or more, depending on the severity of the injury. Connective tissues normally have an accordion like fiber pattern that allows motion. Injuries disrupt this and cause scar tissue that restricts motion. Most people receiving chiropractic rehabilitation for their injury need about 6 to 12 weeks of care to resolve their symptoms, minimize scar tissue, and restore function. In addition to the hands on care, other therapies like ultrasound, traction, electrical stim may be used along with therapeutic exercises and self care instruction. Improvement should be made within the first 3 weeks of care. If not, referral may be made to orthopedists, neurosurgeons, etc, for evaluation.

If this type of care was not received in the first six weeks after injury and the tissues have healed poorly with persistent symptoms, then the same type of care can help to remodel areas that have have stiffness and persistent symptoms. Studies have found that over 90% of people with chronic whiplash injuries improve significantly with chiropractic care.

One of the most important things about recovering from an injury is not to make it worse with improper lifting, sitting/sleeping positions, reaching, exercises, and much more. Resuming normal activities as soon as possible is usually helpful but it is important not to do too much or too little. Your health care provider can instruct you with what is best for you.

Common symptoms of strain/sprain injuries:

Pain                              Muscle spasms

Soreness                    Stiffness

Swelling                      Headache

Numbness/tingling    Weakness


Red Flag symptoms of possible critical injury (Go to the ER):

  • Loss of bowel/bladder control, i.e., soiled or wet yourself or can't go to the bathroom
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, passing blood
  • Chest pain, with or without left arm or jaw pain, pressure, coughing up blood
  • Fainting, passing out
  • Difficulty breathing or speaking
  • High fever
  • Saddle anesthesia, i.e., your whole butt is numb
  • Unbearable pain
  • Severe headache, slurred speech, vision disturbances, dizzyness, confusion, or disorientation
  • Unable to stand or lie down due to pain


Tips to reduce auto accidents and injuries:

Check your headrest position. Ideally, the top of it should be an inch or so above the top of your head and right up against the back of your head. If you think you are about to be rearended, brace your head firmly back against the headrest. Firmly brace your hands at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions on the steering wheel bur keep your elbows slightly bent.

Don’t drive distracted by phones, etc. This can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

Avoid having heavy loose objects in the vehicle. They could become projectiles in a collision.

Pull into traffic slowly. Stop, Look, Listen. Be aware of blind spots, including those in rear view mirrors and behind windshield pillars or highway road signs. Also, when at an intersection making a right-hand turn, look both directions at least twice before proceeding. Vehicles can appear almost out of nowhere very quickly, so exercise caution when pulling into a busy intersection.

Watch for red light runners. Count to three before entering an intersection on a green light. Look both ways and be sure no one is trying to speed through a yellow light. Exercise caution when passing semis. Truck drivers have a large blind spot on their right-hand side, so be especially careful when driving next to an 18-wheeler. If you cannot see the truck’s side mirrors, the truck driver cannot see you.

Keep at least one hand on the steering wheel. Reduce in-car distractions such as changing radio stations or CDs, cell phones, eating or momentarily taking a hand off the wheel. A gust of wind, pothole or a blown tire could send the vehicle into another lane and cause a serious accident.

Watch for kids. Children and animals have a habit of suddenly popping out from between parked cars and into roadways. If you are driving in a residential neighborhood with kids present, watch carefully and slow down.

Perform engine maintenance regularly. Avoid sudden stalls or other vehicle failure by changing the oil regularly and keeping tires properly inflated.

Scan 12 seconds ahead. Always concentrate on the area where you will be driving in 10-12 seconds. For highway driving, keep positioned far enough from other cars so if someone were to suddenly stop or swerve, you could avoid them.

Look backwards when backing out. Fender benders in parking lots are all too common, so look out for cars leaving parking spaces. Don’t depend on mirrors alone -- physically look over you right shoulder while steering to alleviate blind spots mirrors can create.

Do not tailgate. Leave a three-second cushion between you and the car in front of you and begin your journey early enough so you don’t speed to make up time. As tempting as it may be when in a hurry, tailgating is a major cause of accidents.

Be courteous to other drivers. No one owns the roads, so treat others with respect and report any suspicious driving activity to authorities.