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Auto Accident Crash Course

by Dr. Nicolas Campos

drcamposAs a Los Angeles chiropractor practicing in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, many injuries pass through my doors daily. I see my fair share of sports injuries, like tweaked knees, sore shoulders and tennis elbows. I also see plenty of chronic wear and tear troubles like herniated disks, migraine and tension headaches, and the often debilitating nerve irritation known as sciatica. But the most dangerous injuries of all are the ones caused by high-impact collisions or auto accidents. Injuries sustained in auto accidents are dangerous because, very often, the people involved walk away with their lives (thankfully), and as a result, they may think that they haven't been “that injured”. The problem lies in the fact that the tissues that take the most damage are the soft tissues of the spine and the surrounding musculature.


Whiplash is an injury of the cervical and thoracic areas of the spine, or the neck and upper-middle back. It's most often caused by acceleration-deceleration impacts—that is, getting hit from behind. In acceleration-deceleration injuries, the head of the driver or passengers is flung forward on impact and then snapped back forcefully on the rebound. The first impact damages the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the back of the neck, while the rebound does the same to the anterior or frontal region of the neck. Additionally, the intervertebral disks of the neck can become damaged causing bulges, herniations, and eventually nerve damage. Suffice it to say that these injuries can be extremely painful. And more importantly, they can be difficult to treat.

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Whiplash injuries can cause immediate neck and upper back pain, or the pain can be delayed for days afterward. The gravest danger with these injuries is that many people delay treatment precisely because they feel no symptoms for some time after the accident. Big mistake, as time is of the essence in treating whiplash.

When a whiplash injury damages nerve tissue, the victim can feel pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation into their shoulders or arms and hands. If left untreated, a neurological problem can become chronic and even permanent. Worst case scenarios include permanent loss of sensation in the affected arm or shoulder, or a loss of motor function. People who lose their motor function lose their ability to grip things tightly, so they often are unable to hold on to glasses or coffee cups—a nightmare, if you ask me.

Depending on the severity of the whiplash injury, different measures must be taken. If there is a concomitant fracture to any of the spinal bones of the neck, a dislocation, or severe neurological damage, surgery might be needed. However, if the symptoms are mild to moderate, then these injuries can be very successfully treated through chiropractic care. But it's imperative to remember that immediacy is of the utmost importance—the longer one waits to be treated, the longer the healing process.

Low Back Pain

The neck isn't the only area that can be injured in an automobile accident; low back injuries are also quite common in an impact collision. Believe it or not, the most detrimental invention with regard to low backs has been the seat belt. Although seat belts are invaluable for saving lives, low back injuries have increased as a result of these devices. Seat belts lock the victim into place while the body gets thrown around in an accident. The low back muscles then lock up as well, often suffering micro-tears. Making matters worse, if a person is deconditioned and therefore already predisposed to disk herniation, then guess what?—a high-impact auto collision can cause a disk to rupture.

Herniated disks in the low back can cause excruciating pain as well as neurological symptoms like numbness or tingling in the buttocks, legs or feet. And they can lead to sciatica, a painful and often debilitating irritation of the sciatic nerve (the big nerve that runs down the back of the thigh). Sciatica feels like sharp electrical pain in a very distinct band down the back of the leg. It is often described as “hot water being poured down the back of the leg”. If you've never experienced sciatica, consider yourself lucky. I have…and I swear it's right up there with an abscessed tooth. People don't usually let sciatica ride—they often seek immediate attention.

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Like a whiplash injury, low back injuries caused by auto accidents respond beautifully to chiropractic care. And also like whiplash, the sooner one seeks treatment the better. Both injuries will require acute care—treatments designed to relieve pain and help the initial healing process—as well as active rehabilitation.


Rehabilitation is the functional restoration of biomechanical processes of the neuromusculoskeletal system. In other words, it's helping the injured person return to normal functioning required for daily living. It's not enough to simply get the patient out of pain, because without a doubt, that person will have a relapse if the spine, muscles, and nervous system are not retrained to function as they once had, or better.

It's easy to feel well when one is getting regular treatment. But eventually, treatment must end, and there is almost always a step backward for the injured person as far as their overall function and feeling is concerned. Therefore it is important for the treating physician, therapist or chiropractor to make sure the patient is just a little better—stronger, more stable, and more flexible—than he or she was before the accident, to increase the probability of the patient living a normal, pain-free life beyond the auto accident treatment plan.

What Steps to Take if You're in an Auto Accident

If you are ever in an auto accident, there are several things you must do to ensure that everything will be taken care of properly and legally. The first thing you want to do is take photos. Take photos of the accident, your car and, of course, the auto damage. With the ubiquitous cell phone camera this should be easy to do. Then, naturally, you need to exchange information with the other person. Get license and registration; you'll probably want their insurance info too. And don't forget to get their phone number—the last thing you'll want to do is have to chase somebody down, not with all the other things you'll have to take care of in the following days and weeks. If you hit your head on the steering wheel, dash or windshield, you should probably take a trip to the local emergency room. You'll want to get examined for concussion, fractures, dislocations and things of that nature. Don't take this step lightly—I've had several people come into my office after flipping their car multiple times, and I'm always shocked when they skip this most important step.

If you are fortunate enough to escape major head impact then make sure you see a chiropractor first thing the next day. DO NOT HESITATE HERE—remember: symptoms can come on like freight train in a day or two. Trust me when I say you'll be better off if you get checked out and treated immediately.

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Hiring an Attorney

The next step will be to find an attorney. Oh boy, here we go: I can not tell you how many people come into my office following an auto accident and say, “I don't need an attorney. I'm not litigious; I just want my car and medical expenses paid for, and the third party insurance company has already admitted fault.”

I always chuckle first, and then highly advise against that game plan. Let me just say that people who approach the legal aspect of their auto accident in this way are an insurance company's dream—or should I say spoils. I can just picture the insurance adjuster wringing his hands in glee at the notion. Yes, every adjuster says their company will cover all expenses if reasonable; yet no expense is ever reasonable enough for a third party insurance adjuster. Never.

Here's the skinny on hiring an attorney: Dealing with the legal aspects of auto accidents are complicated and time consuming. Yes, you could do it, but it'll take hours and hours of your time, and massive amounts of energy and patience. Insurance companies have odd little habits of losing things—faxes, letters, bills, other correspondences—and they almost never return phone calls, not unless they need something from you. Furthermore, they are trained to say no. No, no, no, no, no—Insurance Adjusting 101. Don't get me wrong, they want to say yes, it's just not in the employee handbook. Insurance adjusters handle hundreds of cases every month; they say no all day. What makes anyone think that they'll be the one to get the “yes” is beyond me. I told you, I always chuckle.

However, there is another professional trained just as vehemently; one that also deals with these cases by the thousands—and that's a good old fashioned personal injury attorney. A personal injury attorney knows how to handle adjusters, knows how to play the game, and that's what you want. You want somebody who is going to do the work for you. You want a real tiger on your side—Rrrrrrr!

As far as wanting just your auto damage and medical bill taken care of…well, that's your decision. But consider this: You probably didn't ask to be in an accident. You probably didn't ask to go to the ER or to the chiropractor for a few weeks or months. You've probably lost some time from work, and you may never be exactly the same as you were physically before. Whatever you decide, talk it over with an attorney first. I've seen way too many people regret their decision after all was said and done—don't let that be you. Take my advice: Get an attorney. It'll be the best decision you can make.

What Happens Next?

After you secure an attorney and start early on chiropractic care, you're only concern will be to heal. The role of the chiropractor is to get you well—that's it. Your job is to show up, get treated and get healthy—that's all you need to do. If you've got a good attorney, he or she will take care of all the legal work and put the gloves on for you—that's why they get paid the big bucks. But don't worry: you should come out of it with your auto damage, health care bills, and legal costs covered. It should be that simple. Don't complicate things by trying to do it all yourself. The stress you'll have to endure will seriously hamper your healing. There's just no need for that.

So there you have it. Remember the basics: If you are in an auto accident—take photos, get the other drivers info, and get medical attention immediately, especially following a major impact. Then seek out a good chiropractic doctor: If you are in Los Angeles, West Hollywood or Beverly Hills, call my office—I handle many personal injury cases completely and successfully. We are not a mill, so you are certain to get the highest quality, customized and personalized care in the city. That I can assure you of.

- March 16, 2008

The Six Keys to Optimal Health by Dr. Nicolas Campos
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Live Life to the Fullest

Dr. Nick Campos, D.C.
West Hollywood Chiropractor

Disclaimer: this article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for a professional medical diagnosis, opinion or suggested course of treatment. Please see your health care professional for a professional medical opinion, and refer to our Disclaimer and Terms of Use regarding your use of this website.


Dr. Nick Campos, Chiropractic Doctor West Hollywood Healing Arts Center
8455 Beverly Blvd. Ste. 305, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Telephone: 323-359-1032 :: Office Hours / Send Email Online

Disclaimer: this website is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for a professional
medical diagnosis, opinion or suggested course of treatment. Please see your health care professional for a
professional medical opinion, and refer to our Disclaimer and Terms of Use regarding your use of this website.

© 2004-11 Dr. Nick Campos. All Rights Reserved.