How Bad is Your Car Accident Injury?


Orange County, CA Car Accident Chiropractor Explains Severity Grading of Injuries After a Car Accident

car accident injury


Car Accident Injuries

Car accidents cause damage to the muscles, ligaments, tendons, disc and nerves of the spine. Even accidents involving little vehicle damage have been shown in many international research studies to cause injury. Researchers have found that milliseconds into an impact, the spine is put into an awkward position that puts tremendous abnormal force on the upper and middle neck ligaments and discs. Damage of the ligaments and discs occurs, which in turn causes the neck to become misaligned. In time, nerves will become irritated if they weren’t directly stretched or damaged by the collision.

Grading the Severity of an Injury After a Car Crash

There are a few grading systems that have emerged over the past decade to allow doctors to predict the outcome and/or treatment times of car accident injuries. These guidelines are not set in stone standards as each individual patients and each accident is totally unique. Guidelines however, are important to understand so that all parties involved; patients, doctors, insurance reps and attorneys have a general idea of the magnitude of the injuries and plan accordingly.

The most highly used and universally accepted set of guidelines are the Croft Guidelines developed by Arthur Croft, D.C., M.Sc., M.P.H., F.A.C.O. Dr. Croft’s work in whiplash goes back many years to his groundbreaking book “Whiplash Injuries.” These guides have been adopted by many state and international chiropractic boards as standards of care for whiplash type injuries.

Grade I: Minimal Auto Accident Injuries

Very minor or “minimal” whiplash injuries cause no ligamentous or nerve injury. These are instances where the spinal muscles are injured and the spinal bones may be misaligned but there are no signs of ligament or nerve involvement. You may feel pain, but on examination there is  no reduction in range of motion. The symptoms may be delayed by days or weeks. Many people with this level of injury do not seek treatment. Those that do usually resolve in 1-3 months with no long term impairment.

Grade II: Slight Car Accident Injuries

Most auto accident injuries fall into the realm of slight in severity. A mild or slight  injury involves an impact and symptoms combined with some positive examination findings, but no ligament damage and no nerve involvement. Onset of symptoms may be delayed by days or even weeks. If you suffered this type of whiplash injury, you may not feel pain right away or it may be very mild, but then over time it does not go away or the pain intensifies. Your doctor would find tight and/or tender muscles, loss of range of motion, misalignment of the spinal bones, and/or pain on pushing and pulling type examination tests. Your x-rays will not show ligament damage and your nerves will check out normal. This injury will take on average 2-6 months to heal and stabilize under the right care.

Grade III: Moderate Car Accident Whiplash Injuries

Moderate injuries are very common. This injury looks like the above, but usually there  is more immediate pain as there is more ligament or disc damage so you feel it right away. On examination your doctor will find any combination of tenderness, spasm, loss of motion, misalignment, altered reflexes or muscle strength and/or abnormal x-rays that suggest ligament damage. This is a more serious injury and can take as short as 3 months to as long as a year or more to stabilize. It is a permanent injury, which means you will suffer either symptoms or abnormal physical exam or x-rays indefinitely.

Grade IV: Moderate to Severe Injuries After a Car Accident

In this injury there is damage of ligaments that causes instability. Nerves are affected from stretching and/or compression. Bone fractures and/or disc herniations are present.These injuries will require permanent ongoing treatment to keep them stabilized after about 6-12 months of treatment.

Grade V: Severe Car Accident Injury

These injuries rarely walk into an out patient office, they are usually taken from the scene to the hospital and because of findings on x-ray, MRI or CT scan, they may be admitted and have a neurosurgical consult. After surgical stabilization, these cases will require ongoing rehabilitative and supportive care indefinitely.

Car Accident Injury Grading is Important

When you’ve been injured in an accident, you want to know how bad your injuries are, what type of treatment is necessary and how long it will take. By using guidelines, your car accident doctor will be able to give you good, science based rationale for your particular condition. Without such information, your doctor is merely guessing or playing it by ear. This is one more reason why you should only entrust your car accident injury treatment to a doctor who specializes in car accident treatment.


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