The benefits of chiropractic care are clear for so many satisfied patients. According to the American Chiropractic Association, chiropractors treat an estimated 35 million Americans each year, including many of the one-in-four Americans who seek treatment for neck and back pain. 

Since neck and back pain are common symptoms after car accidents, many people may think it is appropriate to seek chiropractic care for car accident injuries. But there are some limitations on the practice of chiropractic care. Some conditions and situations, like car accident injuries, require treatment from hospital emergency departments or specialty medical care. 

Car accidents can lead to a range of injuries, from relatively minor bumps to catastrophic injuries. The treatment required for any type of injury depends on its nature and severity, of course. There is no treatment method that is best for everyone, but chiropractic care may be only part of a comprehensive treatment strategy required for the best chance of recovery.

When is Chiropractic Care Appropriate for Car Accident Injuries?

Chiropractic care may be a helpful part of an all-around treatment plan. For accident victims who suffer certain kinds of injuries, including soft tissue injuries like whiplash and neck and back injuries, it can help support a full physical recovery. 

Chiropractic care is not appropriate for all common car accident injuries, though. Some conditions have to be diagnosed by specific medical tests that chiropractors do not perform. 

Other injuries need treatment that cannot be provided by a chiropractor. In the following types of cases, chiropractic care is likely not enough to support full recovery. 

Internal Injuries

Although we often think of car accident injuries as visibly apparent, some serious injuries are internal. Internal injuries, like fractured vertebrae or herniated discs, can only be diagnosed with medical imaging equipment. They may require surgical interventions that are beyond the scope of chiropractic care. 

If you have unexplained pain following a car accident, you should always seek the treatment of a primary care physician. Speak with your primary care physician about whether chiropractic care is safe and appropriate in your situation. 

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Our bodies are usually restrained by safety belts in car accidents. But a driver’s or passenger’s head is likely to sustain an impact. Brain injuries may result from a head’s impact against a steering wheel, dashboard, or window. 

Traumatic brain injuries result from violent jolts of the head and neck, whether or not the head makes an impact with another surface. If you have any of the following symptoms, you may need to seek care outside of a chiropractic clinic:

  • Loss of consciousness, as brief as a few seconds or up to a few minutes
  • Feeling dazed, confused, or disoriented
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or drowsiness, sleeping more than usual, or difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness or loss of balance

In addition, problems with speech, like slurred speech or scrambled speech (sometimes called “word salad”) can indicate a more serious traumatic brain injury. 

More severe traumatic brain injuries may include the symptoms above as well as other, more aggressive symptoms that occur within hours or days after the impact. Early symptoms of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury include:

  • Persistent headache or headache that worsens
  • Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilated pupil in one or both eyes
  • Clear liquid discharge from nose or ears

A person with serious traumatic brain injury may behave unusually; profound confusion, agitation, and combativeness are indicators of significant injury. Any person who cannot awaken from sleep, or who falls into a coma, needs immediate emergency medical attention.

Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries are another type of injury that requires medical treatment beyond chiropractic care. Serious spinal cord injuries require immediate and constant stabilization. To avoid long-term damage, spinal cord injury victims may be monitored closely in a hospital setting.

Even relatively minor injuries or mild nerve damage should be evaluated by a trained brain specialist like a neurologist. Nerve damage is often indicated by sensory effects, like a full or partial loss of feelings. It can also include full or total paralysis. 

Chiropractic Care is Not Always Enough

Chiropractic care is not always enough to support full physical recovery following a car accident. For the best chance of medical and legal recovery, make sure you see a primary care physician and the specialists necessary to treat your condition.