When someone is injured in an accident, the most common injuries are to the muscles and joints.
Ligamentous injuries and disc injuries also commonly occur due to the nature and forces involved in car accidents.
Immediately after the accident it is common to not feel much pain or discomfort at all.
The body produces natural endorphins and pain killers to allow the body to continue to function in order to flee. This is commonly referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Over the first 72 hours, the torn and damaged tissues signal to the body that they have been injured and swelling occurs. This is known as the ‘inflammatory’ phase. During this phase stiffness and increased pain are commonly noted.
My experience is that patients respond best to care after an auto accident if we can begin joint mobilization and strengthening as soon as possible. I have noticed the biggest impact with treatment within the first 3 months after the initial injury before scarring and contracture of the soft tissues occurs.
Patients are often surprised that they wake up feeling worse over the next several days because they felt ‘fine’ immediately after the car accident.
One of the side effects of inflammation can be scarring of the tissues and adhesions to nearby structures, which can lead to permanent loss of motion and a sensation of stiffness and tightness in the muscles.
The next step in the healing process occurs over the next several weeks as the body begins to repair the damaged tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments). During this phase it is very important that the tissues maintain full motion.
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The body lays down collagen in the injured and torn tissues and random and unorganized formation. Under a microscope, muscle and tendon fibers are oriented in a parallel formation, which allows them to stretch and snap back to their resting length.
When collagen and inflammation occur cross-linking and scarring perpendicular to the tissues occurs, and this will limit the amount of elasticity and stretch in those tissues.
It is imperative that the tissues be taken through their entire range of motion to minimize the amount of scarring and cross-linking that occurs in order to maintain full range of motion.
This is why chiropractic is incredibly effective at helping with whiplash and sprain/strain related disorders. Chiropractic takes the individual joints and tissues of the spine through their full ranges of motion as those tissues are healing, effectively reducing and breaking up any scar tissue before it can contract.
Accepted literature supports that most muscular sprain/strain injuries should heal within 6-8 weeks. It is also well understood that muscle heals faster due to its rich blood supply.
Ligamentous injuries (i.e. disc injuries, tendon injuries, and ligaments) can take up to 24 months or longer to heal, as they lack those same healing properties as muscles.
The big take home from my blog today is that car accidents can lead to serious injuries even if you do not notice pain immediately after. It is always best to be examined and have a thorough history taken to ensure that you achieve the best possible outcome after being injured.
At Northwest Spinal Rehab, we have a decade of experience serving people who have been seriously injured and those who have only sustained minor injuries.