Lessons From a Car Crash

A couple years ago, a doctor friend of mine forwarded me some pictures from a nasty car crash that had happened on a quiet road somewhere in Europe. The series of pictures showed two cars that were badly mangled with a number of police and emergency workers attending to the mess.

Over the 9 years I practiced chiropractic, it was commonplace for me to help car crash victims recover from their injuries. Car crashes and chiropractic are one of those natural fits. Crashes often cause neck and back injuries that respond best to chiropractic care, so it only makes sense for someone who’s been in a crash to see a chiropractor.

I also happen to be a little nerdy about the science of car crashes. I find the study fascinating, it was also common for someone to send me photos of an interesting crash. This particular set of photos were different. I realized it when I got to the very last picture. I had been focusing on the wrong thing. The pictures were not about the crash. They were about the driver.

On the very last photo, there was a red circle around one of the guys standing near the crash. There was an arrow pointing down that simply said, “That’s the driver.” I was shocked! He wasn’t on a stretcher. He wasn’t in the back of an ambulance. He wasn’t even sitting on the ground, asking himself “What in the world just happened?”

What was even more shocking about this was the fact that there weren’t two cars like I originally thought. This was a one-car crash. It was such a violent crash that the car had been completely ripped in half!

It’s amazing to think about the type of speed and force that it would take to rip a car into two separate halves. It’s even more amazing to think how someone could survive such an accident. The MOST amazing thing is that not only did he survive it, but he was standing there talking to the emergency crew like nothing happened. Unfortunately for him, walking away from a crash “unharmed” isn’t always the best situation, in spite of what you may think.

Now that may seem like a strange thing to say because most of us would prefer walking away from a car crash feeling fine. The fact is most people who “feel fine” after a car crash do not get properly evaluated for injuries. That’s because most people believe if you can walk away from a crash then you weren’t injured. That’s a myth. Research has shown that even low-speed crashes can cause significant injuries to the back and neck. The presence or absence of symptoms immediately after a crash is not a reliable indicator of injury.

When people don’t feel pain right away or their initial pain goes away, they usually just blow off the fact that they were in a crash like it’s no big deal. Unfortunately, car crashes have a way to come back to bite you. Take for example our driver from the pictures. He may have walked away from a horrific crash, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he showed up in a doctor’s office a few years later complaining about neck pain and headaches.

It’s unlikely that he would put the two things together because it will have been a while since the crash. When the doctor asks him if he’s ever had a car crash or any trauma to his neck, he will likely either say “no” or downplay the severity of a crash that ripped his car in half. In his mind, there is no way that a car crash that he walked away from could be causing him neck pain and headaches years later. Sadly, he’s wrong. That situation happens all the time.

What does any of this have to do with you? Well, most people have been or will be in a car crash at some point in their life. I thought I’d give you 8 nuggets of wisdom that could help you going forward if you are ever in a car crash.

In no particular order, here they are…

1.) If you are in a crash, get checked for injuries and treated (if necessary), regardless of how you feel.

2.) Don’t assume your pain will go away. People who have small aches and pains after a crash often assume the pain will go away. Many times those small pains will turn into chronic pains. Make sure you are evaluated and properly treated for any injury, big or small.

3.) Medical doctors and hospitals look for injuries like fractures, dislocations, and internal bleeding. Being cleared at the hospital doesn’t mean you are uninjured. It means you have been cleared of life-threatening injuries.

4.) Chiropractors look for soft-tissue injuries, signs of stress, misalignments, and malfunction of the joints. Those types of injuries can cause major problems down the road. They can be present even if you get a clean bill of health from the hospital or medical doctor. That is why you should be cleared by the chiropractor as well.

5.) Avoid declaring to the world that you “are fine.” Give your body time to settle out before you decide that you were uninjured in a wreck. If symptoms spring up after you have told your insurance agent or your social media world that you “are fine”, you look dishonest. It will come back to bite you.

6.) Take pictures. Most of us have a camera in our phone. If you get in a crash, take lots of pictures of the car and the surrounding area. You may not ever need them, but if you do, you will be glad you have them.

7.) Understand that the auto insurance company is NOT your friend. You may love your agent, but your agent is not the person making the decisions. I know that sounds cynical, but insurance companies have a history of taking advantage of people. Just be aware.   

8.) Consider a lawyer. I do not recommend everyone who is in a car crash lawyers up. It’s often unnecessary, but there are times when getting a lawyer is in your best interest. Remember when I said the insurance company is NOT your friend? With that in mind…if you ever get the sense that you are being pressured or taken advantage of by the insurance company, it’s time to talk to a lawyer.