Now hear this: ear infections are nothing like getting hurt in an auto accident. But we should be treating them the same.
The vast majority of ear infections will resolve without any treatment whatsoever, yet most get treated with medications. Why?
One reason is that ear infections hurt, and we may relieve the pain faster with antibiotics (but this is not the reason why your doctor is interested in treating an ear infection). The main reason doctors treat ear infections is that a very small percentage (perhaps less than 5% ) of these will go on to have complications, like infections spreading to the bones, systemic disease or chronic ear problems. So we treat all ear infections, with the correct medications, for an adequate duration, predominantly to prevent the occurrence of complications.
Okay, so what does this have to do with injuries from auto accidents? Like ear infections, the vast majority of injuries from automobile accidents will heal on their own, without lasting problems. But we should be treating injuries sustained in auto accidents more aggressively to prevent chronic problems later on. Those problems can include chronic back or neck pain, loss of motion, or even chronic widespread pain.
This does not mean that everyone who gets in a minor fender bender needs to go to physical therapy or chiropractic 3 times a week, for months. Rather, I would suggest that if you have any symptoms after a collision, that you see a non-surgical medical doctor to fully evaluate your injuries. The physician should initiate conservative therapy with appropriate medications (more on that in an upcoming blog) and monitor your progress.
Why should a patient start medications rather than get chiropractic manipulation or physical therapy? Unlike some areas of medicine, which may have very good data on what treatments are best or what intervention should be used first, the treatment of injuries to tendons, ligaments and muscles is not as well understood. So it makes sense to try the safest, least expensive, least invasive therapies first. The use of medication in this situation is often misunderstood. Patients (and some health care providers) believe that medications only ‘mask’ the symptoms. This is simply not true; and it is hard to beat medications for safety, cost and convenience.
If medications are working in reducing symptoms and restoring function, there is no reason to use more expensive, more invasive or more time consuming therapies. While both chiropractic and physical therapy can be effective and safe, it is not always possible or practical to go to therapy 2 or 3 times a week. In addition, the cost per treatment can range from $50 to $150 per treatment (and that does not take into account the time and expense of going to get the therapy). The cost for an entire month of medications is usually a lot less than that.
Many patients believe that they should see an orthopedic surgeon after an auto accident. After all, they are the experts in skeletal injuries. While it is true that orthopedic surgeons are likely to make the correct diagnosis, most injuries from auto accidents do not require surgery. And orthopedists may not be as up-to-date on non-surgical treatments or medications, as they are with the latest surgical techniques. In my experience, non-surgical cases may not get adequate medical treatment or may simply be referred to physical therapy. Would you want to see an ear surgeon for your first ear infection?
There is one more way that injuries from auto accidents are like ear infections: they can really hurt! When used correctly, medications can treat the source of the pain and dysfunction; so you can feel better and resume normal activities sooner.
If you have been hurt in an auto accident, see a non-surgical specialist, take the medications prescribed, and ask about additional therapy if you are not getting better. You heard it here first: treat your body like you treat your ears.