Whiplash Injury in a Teacher

Posted On: June 7, 2017

This is the twelfth case review from my past practice. I am Dr. David Johnson a chiropractor and physical therapist in Highland Park and Lake Bluff. I am the director of North Shore Spinal and Sports Rehabilitation. I started as a chiropractor in Lake Forest, Il almost 30 years ago. I integrated physical therapy into my practice in 1990.

This is case of a 25 year-old woman who was injured in a low speed rear impact collision (LOSRIC). She was the driver of a vehicle that was struck from behind when she was stopped at an intersection. She was wearing her seatbelt when the vehicle was struck. She went to the ER where x-rays were taken of her cervical spine and she was told she had a whiplash injury. The ER said she should get better, gave prescribed NSAIDs and a muscle relaxant. She was instructed to seek the care of a physician if her symptoms persisted.

Her symptoms persisted and she came into my office. She was complaining of neck and shoulder pain and was having headaches. The symptoms were constant and persistent. She was having a difficult time making it through the day as a teacher and was living on Advil to try and relieve her pain.

I examined her. She had limited cervical ranges of motion. When I combined the motions of looking up, bending to the side and rotating her head she got more intense pain in her neck, but no referral down either arm. Neurologically she was intact. She had taut muscles in the back of her neck and shoulder girdle. Review of her x-rays showed no fracture or instability. She had a whiplash injury.

This may have been my first time seeing a whiplash injury, as I was new in practice. I was practicing as a chiropractor in Lake Forest, IL at the time and I did what I was trained to do in school. I adjusted her neck, did myofascial release and moved her into exercises for her neck and shoulder girdle. She responded favorably and got better in 3-4 months.

Being new in practice and a little naïve at the time, I was surprised that the insurance company for the person that hit her didn’t settle the case. She had to get an attorney and take them to court. She and I were the only witnesses called. I was nervous but prepared.

I was questioned very pointedly on my opinions. The opinion that seemed to bother the defense attorney the most was that she was likely to develop degenerative changes in her cervical spine when she was older. The defense attorney pressed me on the stand, asking me how many of these cases had I seen develop arthritis. I said a few. He got very pointed and asked, “You only have been practicing for two years, how could you have seen a few?” I told him that a lot of patients come to me years after having had a whiplash injury, and many develop degenerative changes in the mid cervical spine as a result. Exacerbated he yelled something unkind at me, at which point the judge warned him to behave or he would be held in contempt of court. The lawyer said, “No further questions.”
In the end she ended up winning her case and getting compensated not only for her medical bills, but also for her pain and suffering. She was given an allowance for her future care, which I believe she deserved.

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