With icy conditions upon us, car accidents are becoming more frequent and even low impact fender benders can leave you with serious pain. The good news is physical therapy is an effective treatment for most accident related injuries. The most common injury from a car accident is "whiplash." This can happen from a sudden stop or impact from another car. What usually happens is multiple unusual forces act on your body and your muscles respond and tense up to support your spine and spinal cord to prevent more serious injuries. However, the muscles often get overworked and stuck in this tensed state or sometimes go into spasm. The muscles then get tired from holding the tense pattern and you begin to feel sore and achy. This phenomenon is why people don't always feel pain from an accident until a day or two later.
This "whiplash" effect or muscle strain can be treated by physical therapists. Most often hands-on treatment including soft tissue mobilization will be utilized to help calm down the tense muscles and restore them to normal mobility. This can be accomplished through massage and stretching techniques as well as dry needling which not all therapists perform. In addition, the therapist may perform joint mobilizations or manipulations to help the spine to move better. As a patient, you will also be given exercises to help stretch tight muscles and to strengthen stabilizing muscles of your spine. These stabilizer muscles are important for supporting your spinal structure and will be what ultimately keeps your pain from coming back.
Other common injuries related to accidents include ligament sprains and bulging discs. These can also be treated with physical therapy with similar methods to what is stated above with care not to stress the damaged structure and to promote healing and reduce inflammation. Sometimes if the injury is more serious or not responding to therapy, then other treatments such as steroids or injections or possibly spinal surgery may be necessary.
Typical treatment for accident related injuries in physical therapy varies from person to person and depends on the severity of the condition and how quickly after the accident you begin therapy. Recent injuries are always easier to treat than chronic injuries. Treatment can range from 1-2 weeks to 2-3 months depending on the patient. Also, most car insurance policies have coverage for medical benefits including physical therapy.