After a car crash we often are left wondering what to do. One of the most important things is to have a comprehensive physical examination including digital X-ray to check for damage to the ligaments, tendons and muscles that protect your spine. These soft tissues are frequently damaged in car crashes yet the damage is often not documented or treated. A fracture, or broken bone, can be a severe complication in a car crash and hospitals and rapid care centers do a wonderful job of identifying fracture and other major injuries that are a threat to your immediate health requiring immobilization or other treatment. Soft tissue injuries are often ignored until the symptoms become more severe.
Digital X-ray allows a physician to see the bones of the body. Soft tissues like muscle, ligaments and tendons are not seen on X-ray. How can X-ray help identify injury of soft tissues if they aren’t visible on the films? This is a great question and deserves a good explanation. What we can see on film includes the bones of the spine and these bones can be evaluated based on several factors including general positioning, size, condition, degeneration density and more. Digital X-ray can also use multiple views of the same area such as the neck that are taken in different positions to measure relative strength and function of ligaments. For example, a side or lateral view of the neck an be taken in a neutral position, then once with the head flexed forward and again with the head extended rearward. The positioning of the vertebrae is compared in the flexion and extension views and measured against a chart of normal ligament tolerances from the American Medical Association (AMA). These standards from the AMA can tell your physician if there is damage to the ligaments in your spine.
At times, when persistent pain and problems are present, or when there are more significant neurological injury signs such as numbness and tingling in the hands and arms it may be necessary to look deeper into the injury area with advanced imaging equipment such as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging study (MRI). These types of advanced computed solutions can be much better than digital x-ray due to the nature of the image. An MRI specifically shows soft tissue structures such as ligaments, tendons and muscles and can more readily identify damage in these areas such as tears, herniations or bulges. After a car crash or whiplash injury it is important to receive proper medical care including a comprehensive physical evaluation, digital x-ray with measured analysis of your neck ligaments and an MRI if needed. Call today to make an appointment for your evaluation and digital x-ray if you have been in a recent crash and get started on the road to recovery at Utah Health Center.