Following a car accident or slip and fall, it is important to diagnose and document your injuries. The most common starting point in diagnosing your injuries may be at the scene of the accident by paramedics, or fire rescue. It is important to allow emergency personnel to examine you, because you may be in shock, and not immediately be aware that you have an injury. In many cases, injured persons refuse medical care by paramedics, refuse to be transported to the hospital emergency room, and tell first responders they are not injured. Later that day or into the night, pain may develop and it is quite common for injured persons to visit the emergency room on their own several hours after an accident. It can take several hours, up to several days, for inflamation and pain to set in following a car accident. Further while fractures may be quite painful, it is possible to have a fracture and not be aware of it. Continuing the normal activities of daily life with a fracture can lead to further injury and in some instances life threatening conditions. One example, a spinal fracture may not be noticeable, however if left undiagnosed and untreated, can lead to paralysis. Other injuries that are not immediately apparent include spinal disc injuries, tears to muscle and ligaments, and brain injuries. Traumatic brain injury may not show up for several hours, and any time you have a blow to the head, there is the possibility that a brain injury may have occurred. Swelling of the brain may take several hours, and the patient should be watched carefully for any signs of brain injury, such as difficulty talking, severe headache, dizziness, nausea, slurred speech, and excessive sleepiness. If any of these signs occur, the patient should go to the emergency room immediately.
The best place to start in diagnosing your injury may be the hospital emergency room. You may be transported by emergency services from the accident scene, or you may drive yourself hours later when pain starts to develop. At the emergency room they will do a complete evaluation of your vital signs, a physical examination and X-rays in many cases. Your emergency room visit should rule out any immediate life threatening condition. However the emergency room is probably not the best place to diagnose or treat soft tissue, and spinal disc injuries.
The basic X-Ray is a good diagnostic tool to determine if you have a bone fracture. A major disadvantage of X-rays as a diagnostic tool, is that they provide little information about the soft tissues. Since they only show a flat, two-dimensional picture, they cannot distinguish between the various layers of body tissue, muscle, ligaments, and spinal discs.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of structures inside the body. In many cases MRI gives different information about structures of the body that cannot be seen with an X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan. An MRI may show injuries that cannot be seen with other methods. Most soft tissue injuries, as well as spinal disc injuries can only be diagnosed with the aid of an MRI.
A visit to your family doctor, or MD is one option in diagnosing your injuries following a car accident, however medical doctors normally do not specialize in diagnosing and treating soft tissue and spinal disc injuries. An MD may be a good choice when you have lacerations, need stitches, or have a fracture requiring the services of an orthopedic doctor.
The Chiropractor is well suited to treat injuries after an automobile accident. The chiropractor is educated in diagnosing and treating soft tissue and spinal disc injuries. The chiropractor may take X-rays of your spine, take a complete history of your health, and conduct a thorough physical examination. Chiropractors are well versed not only in diagnosing auto accident injuries, but in treating those injuries in such a manner as to return the patient as much as possible to their same condition as before the accident. Chiropractors often serve as the center of the wheel (hub) in treating auto accident victims and may send you out for an MRI, or for a consultation with a neurologist or orthopedic doctor. The chiropractor will then coordinate your care, and diagnostic testing with such outside professionals, and create a final report and recommendations regarding your injuries, including the severity of your injuries, any degree of permanent impairment, and the need for ongoing future care.
The orthopedic doctor is normally consulted when there is a fracture, ligament tear, and spinal disc injury. The orthopedic doctor will usually see you after your chiropractic doctor has reviewed your MRI report, and determined that you may need a surgical consultation. The orthopedic doctor will evaluate whether your injury is one that can be addressed with surgery. The orthopedic doctor may advise you that you would benefit from surgery for your accident related injury, and will then provide your primary doctor or chiropractor with a written surgical recommendation. It is up to the patient in many cases whether they will undergo surgery, unless the condition is one in which surgery is absolutely necessary such as a life threatening condition, or one with is causing extreme pain.