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Who Should I See After a Car Accident?

Who Should I See After a Car Accident?

I’ve heard people ask me this all the time:  Who should I see after a car accident- my medical doctor or my chiropractor… how about an orthopedist?  Should I go to the urgent care center or emergency room first? 

Some people think that they should go to the emergency room for stiffness in their neck and back.  Stiffness alone shouldn’t be the only factor to warrant a trip to the ER.  The main factors should be the nature and severity of your injuries and level of pain you’re experiencing.

It’s common for people to feel some kind of pain or discomfort after a car accident.  On the other hand, after a car accident, adrenaline rushes through your body and can hide some of the pain from an injury.  Many car accident victims don’t feel pain for hours or even days after an accident.  So why does this happen?  When the body senses a “potential danger”, and adrenaline is released into the body.  Adrenaline blocks the body’s pain receptors, which is why so many people who get into car accidents don’t feel pain immediately after a crash.  Because of this release of adrenaline, what might feel like a relatively minor pain at the scene of the accident could actually be a major injury.  This is why it’s best to seek medical attention as soon as you can after a car accident.  You should know the differences between seeking medical care from an emergency room or an urgent care center following a car accident.  And it’s important to know the right kind of doctor you should go to the next day or two after getting checked out at one of these facilities.

Here are some of the factors that need to be considered when deciding where to get care after a car accident:

Emergency Room at Hospital if:

- Broken bones

- Large bleeding wounds

- Head injuries (concussion)- Loss of consciousness, headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea/vomiting

- Unable to walk or drive home safely

- Chest pain or difficulty breathing

- Abdominal pain, especially if you’re pregnant

- Recent surgical procedure affected by the accident

- Intense neck pain (whiplash) or back pain

- Intense pain in other areas of the body

- Constant numbness/tingling in arms/legs.

- Loss of control of bladder/bowels

- Fragile body type, especially if you’re elderly

- Possible need for advanced imaging that’s not available at urgent care center (CT, MRI, Ultrasound)

- Usual treatment: May prescribe pain/anti-inflammatory medications, refer for follow-up visit with general medical doctor, chiropractor or orthopedist.

Urgent Care Center if:

- Moderate headache, neck or back pain that’s not unbearable

- Moderate pain in muscles and joints of the body.

- Intermittent numbness and/or tingling in arms/legs

- Usual treatment: May prescribe pain/anti-inflammatory medications

- Refer for follow-up visit with chiropractor or general medical doctor

General medical doctor if:

- Follow-up visit a day or two after the accident.

- Will perform a brief exam and follow-up wound care, if needed

- Advice on usage of ice pack to injured areas and limitation of physical activity.

- Possible referral for x-rays or advanced imaging (MRI, ultrasound, etc.)

- Usual treatment: prescription for pain/anti-inflammatory medications.

- Referral to doctor of chiropractic or orthopedist for proper rehabilitation.

Chiropractic Doctor

- Specializes in problems affecting the bones, nerves, muscles and joints of the body.

- Most experienced type of doctor that specifically treats car accident injuries.

- Performs the same diagnostic testing that orthopedists do for car accident injuries.

- Usually will take x-rays on-site to assess alignment/misalignment of the spine.

- Will refer the patient for advanced imaging (MRI, ultrasound, etc), if needed.

- Adjusts the spine to remove nerve irritation, reduce pain, and restore normal mobility.

- Massage therapy to properly heal strained muscles.

Cold laser therapy to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling of stretched or torn tissues.

- Performs other physio-therapy treatments to promote healing.

- Instructs stretching and strengthening exercises to promote rehabilitation.

- If a muscle weakness is involved and more specialized strengthening exercises need to be performed,    the chiropractor may refer the patient to a physical therapist for supervised exercise care.

- Will refer patient to a neurologist or orthopedist for further evaluation, if needed.

Orthopedic Doctor  

- Examines patient and evaluates patient’s condition to see if a surgical intervention is indicated

- Refers for x-rays or other advanced imaging (CT/MRI, etc) to further diagnose patient’s injuries.      

- May perform pain injections to injured areas. 

- Prescribes pain/anti-inflammatory medications.

- May refer to a neurologist for further evaluation, if needed

Neurological Doctor

- Examines patient and f not already done, may refer a patient for an MRI.

- May perform specific neurological diagnostic procedures (EMG/NCV/EEG tests)

- May prescribe pain/anti-inflammatory medications.


In most cases, if you've been in a car accident and you're experiencing any symptoms at all, you should call Dr. Gary Martin, local Chiropractor in Irvine and get checked out as soon as you can after the collision.  His office is equipped with a digital x-ray facility, and is able to help most injured people.  Same day appointments are usually available.

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