Most personal injury cases involving back and neck pain will be caused by damage to the soft tissues around the spinal column (muscles and tendons) and not due to herniated discs or fractured vertebrae. These soft tissue cases will most likely involve physical therapists and chiropractors, as medical doctors will most often only be able to treat them with anti-inflammatory and narcotic pain medications. Because long-term use of narcotic pain medication has too many downsides to list, many people seek alternative treatments — such as chiropractic care.
The problem with most soft tissue cases is that insurance companies do not value them highly. The pain you feel from your soft tissue injury can be intense and sometimes permanent. However, no sophisticated tests, like MRIs or CT scans, can show the damage, much less the degree, of a soft tissue injury (like a broken bone). Without the objective evidence these types of scans provide to support your claim, your subjective complaints will be the only proof of how badly you are hurt.
Subjective complaints by a plaintiff without hard medical evidence are usually poorly received by insurance adjusters or juries. A broken bone is easy to see on an X-ray, but strained muscles/ligaments are a different battle.
The Balancing Act of the Chiropractor in Soft Tissue Cases
When you have a soft tissue injury case, you must pay special attention to how much you will owe your medical providers (and health insurance to the extent that it has paid for accident-related injuries) when it is over. You must pay particular attention to chiropractic care because the costs quickly add up. Most chiropractors will want to treat you several times per week. This will likely go on for several months before you have recovered or when the doctor is ready to say whether you are at maximum medical improvement or MMI. You need to wait to settle your case until you are through with treatment or have reached MMI.
Knowing that you may need treatment for several months before your case is in a position to settle potentially, you have to ask yourself if you need as many treatments as your chiropractor suggests (i.e., could you go 1 or 2 times per week instead of 4?).
Honestly evaluate whether the treatment is making you feel better. Please discuss with the chiropractor how many treatments they expect you to need and calculate how much that will cost. Above all, your medical rehab and health are the number one priority! Some doctors fail to monitor patient progress consistently. If you are not improving week to week, make sure your doctor knows. Likewise, if you feel like you’re close to back to normal, let your doctor know that you are improving. Insurance companies love to tout “excessive treatment” a year later, even though they weren’t in the treatment room. This honest, documented conversation with your doctor can improve your treatment and, often, your legal case result.
Consistency of treatment is essential to a soft tissue injury plaintiff. You don’t want to go for any extended time without receiving any treatment. Insurance companies quickly claim, “If you’re not treating, you’re not hurt.” But, in real life, sensible people do not look forward to seeing the doctor.
However, over-treating is almost as much a risk to your case as under-treating. If you accumulate more medical bills than your case is worth, you could walk away with no money in your pocket or, worse — still owing money to your medical providers. Just like all professions, there are good chiropractors and bad ones. There’s an oft-repeated joke about chiros:
“How many chiropractors does it take to change a light build?”
- Just one, but it takes ten visits.
Paying attention to your treatment and progress (or lack of progress) is critical, and your doctor must know how you are feeling.
Ultimately, it would be best if you balanced the cost of your chiropractic care against its benefit to your health and your lawsuit. Ask your lawyer to monitor your medical bills (their office will routinely request them anyway) and let you know if they think you’re over-treating. Let them know that you’re not asking for medical advice. You want to know when they feel your medical care cost will exceed your case’s fair value.
A Kind Word About Chiropractors
I’ve been rough on chiropractors in this article, so I’ll finish positively. In my experience, more often than not, chiropractors benefit from the lawsuits of soft tissue plaintiffs. They seem to take soft tissue claims more seriously than some medical doctors, which makes them more vocal advocates for plaintiffs. What they may lack in credibility with insurance adjusters, they can often make up for by helping their patients physically get better – they seem to be true believers in their patients’ pain. They can typically give the jury a scientific reason for showing that the soft tissue “whiplash” injury is actual (because it is) and permanent. Even if the insurance company is skeptical of all “soft tissue” injuries and chiropractors, they will be more likely to believe your subjective complaints of pain with a chiropractor backing you up than if you were to go to trial with no medical expert.
So, should you see a chiropractor? See a medical doctor first if you have a soft tissue injury case. Try it out. If the chiropractor makes you feel better, continue to see them.