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Back Pain After A Car Accident? Chiropractic Care Can Help

Video games and Hollywood movies glorify car chases, car crashes, car jumping and other death-defying stunts. After these death-defying crashes, actors walk away without a scratch. These movies and video games create an illusion that people never get hurt in accidents. In reality, over 2.3 million people in the United States are injured in car crashes per year. That’s more people than the population of the state of New Mexico. Vehicle injuries are on the rise worldwide, and cost over $43 billion annually. [1]
It is not normal to be sore after a crash, but it is common to be sore. Just like it is not normal to have high blood pressure, but it’s common in the United States to have high blood pressure. Normally your back should not hurt, so if you do experience lower back pain after a car crash, then that’s a red flag.

Common Back Injuries Caused By Car Accidents

Low back injuries commonly occur in auto accidents. 40% to 48% of all neck whiplash patients complained of low back pain. [1] There is a misconception that your seat protects your lower back from vehicle injury. Unfortunately, this isn’t true.
The force of the impact causes the low back, or the lumbar spine, to move in multiple directional planes. In addition to moving forward, backward, side to side or rotating, the lumbar spine also moves up and down like a spring. The up and down move occurs mainly because the lap belt anchors the pelvis to the seat. Seat belts save lives, but by anchoring the pelvis to the car seat, the lap belt predisposes the low back to more injury. The shoulder harness puts more rotational forces in the spine because it anchors one shoulder. Multiple forces exert pressure on intervertebral discs, joints in the low back, facet joints, vertebrae, muscles and ligaments.
The low back also has no rib attachments, so it’s more vulnerable to injury then the mid back area. Direct side-impacts can be especially debilitating because there is not a lot of metal between the occupant and the impact vehicle.
Surprisingly, even a seemingly minor car crash can cause back pain and injuries. Researchers found that a 15.5 mph rear-end collision reproduced almost 1600 pounds of force between the pelvis and the seat back. [1]
As discussed previously, low back injuries are a common car accident injury. Soft tissue injuries are the most common type of low back injury in a vehicle accident. There are seven layers of muscles in the low back, which enable us to bend, twist, and maintain an upright posture. The three types of injuries to muscles occur when a muscle becomes overstretched, becomes compressed by striking an object, or rapidly contracts. The symptoms associated with muscle injuries are: pain with movement, decreased range of motion, muscle weakness, muscle tightness, pain in the muscle, and bruising. When a muscle stays contracted, this is known as a muscle spasm. Muscle spasms are the body’s attempt to splint and protect the area from further damage. Muscle injuries usually heal the quickest due to rich blood supply, but it is still important to incorporate therapeutic exercises to help prevent scar tissue formation. Scar tissue is poorly formed muscle fiber that does not function as well as normal muscle tissue. Proper exercise and stretching can help prevent scar tissue from forming. Excessive scar tissue can lead to chronic pain and limited mobility.

Ligament Injuries

Ligaments hold bones together. When joints are stretched too much, the ligaments that hold the bones together can tear or become overstretched. Pain and swelling are the most common symptoms associated with ligament tears. Ligament injuries usually take longer to heal then muscle injuries because there is less blood supply to ligaments.
The joints in the low back are called facet joints. These joints contain fluid and connect the bones together. The facet joints enable your vertebrae to move. The joint capsule can become over stretched in an accident. Facet joint inflammation is often the result of stress on the joint. The most common signs of facet joint injuries are decreased range of motion, intense pinpoint low back pain, and pain that worsens when extending backwards or standing up straight.
Another common injury from an auto accident is a herniated intervertebral disc. The intervertebral discs are the cushion-like discs that sit between the vertebrae in the back. Herniated discs in the low back can usually cause pain in the low back and sometimes pain, numbness, or weakness down the leg. Disc herniation can compress spinal nerves or even the spinal cord.
Fractures or broken bones injuries are not as common in the low back. Car accidents can sometimes cause the vertebrae in the back to fracture. In the case of a fracture, the pain after a car accident is usually intense and gets worse with standing. Swelling and muscle spasm usually occur as well.
Sometimes a low back injury will result in pain down the back of the leg, called sciatica. Sciatica can occur when the spinal nerves L4 to S3 are injured. Sciatica can also be caused by the spasming of muscles in the hip and buttock area, which pinch the nerve; causing pain to travel down the leg.


More serious low back injury symptoms include the inability to control bowel or bladder functions, difficulty walking, weakness in the legs, numbness in the pelvic area, numbness down the legs, severe low back pain or sexual dysfunction. If you have suffered any of the above after your car accident, then you should immediately go to an emergency room. This could be a sign of a serious spinal cord injury known as cauda equina syndrome which could result in permanent paralysis. Seek immediate medical attention.

Risk Factors

Some people are more suspectable to injury than others. Risk factors are characteristics that account for the different effects an accident can have on a person. For instance, stronger, younger, more muscular individuals will generally be able to handle the impact from a vehicle accident better than weaker, less muscular, or older individuals. Each person is different and the effects of the forces on the body affect people differently. People are more likely to get injured and sustain more injury if they: are female, have a prior history of injury, have less muscle mass, have a lower positioned head restraint, are out of position (not sitting straight and looking forward) when the car crash occurs, have their head turned, are not aware of the impending impact, are above age 40, are involved in a frontal or side impact collision, or are struck by a vehicle of greater mass. Spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal or the intervertebral foramen (the canal the nerve passes through), is also a big risk factor. People with spinal stenosis already suffer from spinal problems, adding more injury to an already compromised area

Should I Seek Chiropractic Care?

If you’re suffering from back pain after a car accident, then you should make an appointment with a chiropractor.
Chiropractors successfully treat lower back pain caused by car accident injuries. Chiropractors, or doctors of chiropracty, typically see a lot of patients involved in accidents and are trained to treat and diagnosis low back injuries. The chiropractic drug-free approach helps minimize the overuse of highly addictive opioid pain killers. Opioid addiction has become an epidemic in the United States. Unfortunately, many drug addictions start out as a patient taking medication for their low back pain; then dependence and addiction occur. Chiropractors use non-invasive and drug-less approaches to help patients recover from auto accident injuries.
Treatment for low back injures varies depending on what structures are injured, the stage of injury and the severity of injury. Treatment recommendations can be made after a thorough examination and appropriate diagnostics. There are two injury stages, the acute stage and chronic or post-acute stage. The acute stage can be defined as the 1st stage of injury immediately proceeding the accident. The acute stage is the 1st 48 hours after the accident occurred. In the acute stage of injury, most healthcare providers want to decrease the pain and inflammation. In the post-acute stage, healthcare providers want to help improve the patient’s functioning. Different treatment modalities are often used during the different stages of injury. It is important to seek treatment as soon as possible to facilitate the healing process and prevent the condition from getting worse. It is also important to follow through with treatment to fully recover from the injury.

Chiropractic Treatments

Some of the treatments a doctor of chiropracty performs in the office are:
Chiropractic adjustments, which aid in proper spinal alignment and function of spinal segments. After a car accident injury, it is common for the spine to become more rigid and stiffer. Spinal adjustments help increase mobility and can help restore the spine to its proper positioning.
Electric stimulation is often used to help decrease pain after a car accident. Small pads that are attached to electrodes are placed on the back. A gentle electrical current passes through the pads and helps reduce muscle spasms and reduce pain.
Ultrasound therapy provides gentle heat to muscles, helping increase circulation and aid in healing.
Traction is used to help increase mobility of the spine. It helps poorly functioning facet joints to glide better, helps reduce scar tissue formation in muscles around the spine, and can help reduce nerve pressure.
Therapeutic stretching is used to help increase range of motion, improve function of the low back, and help elongate contracted muscles and decrease atrophy of muscles.
Therapeutic exercises are very important to help damaged muscles become stronger so they can support the spine better. Exercise also promotes the regrowth of better muscle tissue.
Manual therapy is similar to massage but is used to help decrease scar tissue, increase range of motion, and decrease muscle tightness and spasming.
Lumbar support belts or back braces are used in earlier stages of treatment to help increase stability in the low back and prevent excessive movement. In earlier stages of treatment, the low back muscles might not be strong enough to properly support the patient standing upright. Back braces can enable patients to function better. Think of a lumbar support brace as ‘training wheels.’
In 1970 there was 112 million drivers in the United States, as of 2016 the number of drivers has grown to 225 million. There are more vehicles on the road which means there is a higher likelihood of getting into an accident. With more drivers on the road, auto accidents will increase and so will back injuries. Low back injuries have a profound affect. “Back injuries account for over 264 million lost days per year. That is two days for every full-time worker in the United States.” [2] Low back injuries are the most common reason for disability. People suffering from back pain have difficulty holding a job not just because they have pain and can’t move well, but also because they suffer from disturbed sleep and emotional disorders. For many, a low back injury means unemployment and dependence.

Next Steps

Low back injuries need to be properly evaluated and treated. It is important for see an experienced chiropractor after a low back injury because chiropractors provide drug free and non-invasive treatments. These treatments effectively provide relief and aid you on the road to recovery. As licensed healthcare providers, doctors of chiropracty can make referrals to other doctors if the injury requires emergency treatment. Seeing a chiropractor should be your first step after an accident. If you’re suffering from back pain after a car accident, make an appointment with our Lake Worth practice today.

• Croft, Arthur (2009). Whiplash and Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries A guide for Patients and Practitioners. San Diego Ca. SRISD Press Pg. 112-116., 134