Chiropractors represent less than five percent of the total healthcare industry in the United States, yet they treat more personal injury patients than any other kind of specialist. The word “chiropractic” comes originally from Greek and means “done by hand.” Chiropractic care is designed to heal musculoskeletal injuries and is based on the premise that when the skeletal system is aligned properly and when the nervous system functions properly, the human body is self-healing.

Chiropractors provide treatment to a third of all accident victims in the United States. A chiropractor is in fact often the right choice for a traffic accident victim, since about 65 percent of traffic accident injuries include musculoskeletal injuries from whiplash or cervical, thoracic, and lumbar strains or sprains. Chiropractors are trained specifically to treat these types of soft tissue injuries.

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A chiropractor performs specific manipulations of the vertebrae. When the spine is improperly aligned, the condition is called “subluxation,” which is presumed to impact nerve transmissions that may cause neck and back pain as well as other kinds of pain. A chiropractic adjustment refers to a chiropractor manipulating vertebrae that have abnormal movement patterns or fail to function properly. A chiropractic adjustment, also known as chiropractic manipulation, manual manipulation, or spinal manipulation, is a common therapeutic treatment for lower back pain.

Chiropractic treatment has historically been considered an “alternative” therapy, but in recent years, the approach has become a virtually mainstream treatment. Chiropractic therapy is covered by a number of insurance plans, and in 2004, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced the full inclusion of chiropractic treatment for veterans. Chiropractic treatment has long been a widely-accepted treatment for spinal problems including back pain and whiplash.

Q: What kinds of injuries typically suffered in traffic accidents are treated by chiropractic care?

When someone is in a traffic accident, along with the visible injuries, there may be injuries we can’t see, such as herniated discs, neck and back pain, misalignments in the vertebrae, and severe headaches and head pain. There is simply no such thing as a “trivial” head, neck, or spinal injury. Chiropractic therapy treats these injuries “holistically” without using drugs or conducting surgical procedures.

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Q: What is whiplash?

A: Traffic accident victims frequently sustain the cervical/neck strain known as whiplash. Whiplash injuries happen mainly, but not only, in rear-end collisions, and they happen in low- speed accidents as well as high-speed collisions. When someone’s head is violently snapped forward and then instantly thrown backward, that person will very likely sustain a whiplash injury.

Specifically, whiplash happens when neck muscles and tendons are stretched by force beyond their natural range of motion. This can happen in traffic collisions when the head is shoved forward and then tossed immediately backward. Along with sprains and strains of the neck, the shoving or yanking force may sometimes result in severely misaligned cervical vertebrae. After any traffic accident, seeking medical attention must always be your first priority – because some injuries can’t be seen.

Q: What are the symptoms of whiplash?

A: Whiplash may cause severe headaches and migraines, a stiff back and neck, shoulder pain, light and sound sensitivity, nausea and dizziness, and pain and stiffness radiating from the neck to the arms and shoulders. A person who suspects whiplash should have an examination as quickly as possible, because it does not fade away. Whiplash symptoms typically get worse with time, and without timely treatment, whiplash can permanently restrict the motion of the neck. Some accident victims recover quickly from whiplash, but for others, the suffering is long-term.

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Q: When should an accident victim seek chiropractic treatment?

A: Accident victims shouldn’t wait. In the Chicago area, traffic accident victims should seek medical attention immediately after an accident, and if negligence was responsible for the accident, victims should also consult with an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney. Some injuries may not appear until days or even several weeks after an accident, but the sooner treatment begins, the better.

Chiropractors heal traffic accident injuries – or more precisely, they help the body to heal itself – by correcting misalignments in the vertebrae, reducing swelling and inflammation, and enhancing the circulation by using manual adjustments, spinal decompression, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Most chiropractors will also make dietary supplement recommendations.

Q: What happens at the initial chiropractic session?

An initial chiropractic examination will usually include a history and a physical. A patient will be asked about the current injury, if there is any underlying health problem, about the family’s history of disease, and about his or her dietary habits, previous medical care, and any current medications. Patients should describe the injury as precisely and as clearly as possible to the chiropractor.

An initial chiropractic examination will look for signs of inflammation and improper spinal alignment. The range of the neck’s motion may also be determined and assessed. Laboratory tests may be recommended to rule out serious infection or to discover issues that may require a referral for a different type of treatment. Many chiropractors will also insist on x-rays during an initial evaluation.

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Q: How long is Chiropractic treatment typically required?

A: The length of time a patient may need for chiropractic treatment after a traffic accident injury hinges on several factors: the nature and the severity of the injury and any underlying illnesses or medical conditions the patient may suffer. Generally speaking, a healthy individual’s traffic-related injury will heal faster than a comparable injury sustained by someone with an underlying medical condition. Some injury victims can complete chiropractic treatment in as little as a month or even less; other patients may require as much as two years of chiropractic treatment.

Q: Will insurance cover chiropractic treatment?

A: The answer to that question is “it depends.” To ensure fair treatment and justice after a traffic crash in the greater Chicago area, for example, an injured victim should not speak to any insurance company representative before speaking first with an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney. Some insurance companies still tend to be suspicious of physical therapists and chiropractors. Nevertheless, the primary concern after a traffic crash must be to obtain the treatment that will help the most.

By: Stephen Phillips

Stephen D. Phillips is the managing partner at the Phillips Law Offices in Chicago. He earned his Juris Doctor from Loyola University in 1985 and his B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1981. He is an extensively published writer and sought-after lecturer on legal topics ranging from medical malpractice to tort reform. Mr. Phillips is also the recipient of a number of awards and honors from various legal and community groups.