Garden Home Physical Therapy and Acupuncture

expert integrative care for sports and orthopedic injuries

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MVA/Automobile accidents

I fully understand and empathize with the upheaval caused by an automobile accident.  I’ve been treating those who have been injured in motor vehicle accidents (MVA’s) for over 20 years.  Additionally, I’ve had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of four separate MVA’s myself.  I understand the neck pain, back pain, and headaches that often follow this type of injury.  I also understand the stress of dealing with insurance adjustors and body shops when you’re in pain and not feeling up to par.  And then there’s the stress of unchanged home and/or work responsibilities despite the fact that you feel far from 100%.

My own MVA related injuries helped motivate my in depth study of spinal injuries and treatment, including much advanced post graduate coursework.  Because I’ve been there, I know first hand what it takes to overcome these types of injuries. 

If your MVA was very recent (within the past 24-48 hours), the best thing you can do for yourself is reduce the inflammation and rest.  Ice or cold packs can be fairly effective at decreasing the inflammation; some people get good results with over the counter NSAID’s such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen (Aleve).  As far as reducing your activity level, bed rest generally isn’t necessary but I would suggest refraining from heavy physical activities including sports, heavy lifting, etc.  As you return to your daily responsibilities, brief breaks may need to be taken every 20-30 minutes from tasks requiring sustained postures, such as computer work.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make after an MVA is not listening to their bodies.  We live in a culture where people are used to pushing through aches and pains.  This line of thinking will work against you if your body is trying to heal from an injury.  Oftentimes the injuries that occur with an MVA are not visible, but this makes them no less real.  This is the ideal opportunity to learn to listen to your body.  If you’re tired, get more rest.  If something hurts, try to either find a different way to accomplish the task or see if someone else might be able to take over the task for a period of time.  This advice may sound overly obvious, yet it’s easy to ignore our body’s signals when we get caught up in the demands of daily life.

The other big mistake I frequently see made is following the “wait and see” approach for far too long with regards to getting medical care.  Some injuries do resolve on their own, but I would say that if after two weeks you’re still experiencing pain, tightness, limited mobility, or are curtailing your activities due to your injuries, it would be prudent to have your injuries evaluated.  I’ve seen many people who tried to take the “tough it out” approach.  These people ultimately deal with lingering pain and restriction much longer than they would have if they hadn’t delayed getting treatment.

Physical therapy and acupuncture are both extremely effective forms of treatment for MVA related injuries.  Physical therapy uses both modalities (machines such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and cold laser) and manual therapy (hands on treatment) to decrease the remaining inflammation, improve joint mobility and soft tissue extensibility, and restore proper joint alignment.  On occasion I will use high amplitude thrust techniques, also known as joint manipulation, but have found that often the body responds just as well if not better to gentler techniques such as positional release and muscle energy.  With positional release a joint, with its attached muscles, is gently placed into a position where the muscles can reset their “resting” tension level to truly be more relaxed and at rest.  This allows the joint to realign itself, and makes it more likely that the joint will stay correctly aligned afterward.  With muscle energy techniques, the body is placed in a specific position; gentle resistance is then applied to a particular muscle or group of muscles.  The force produced by the patient’s own muscular contraction realigns the targeted joint.  After the initial phase of treatment, physical therapy is generally progressed to include gentle strengthening.  This allows the body to maintain the corrections made to posture and joint alignment.

Acupuncture is a wonderful complement to physical therapy, also helping to reduce inflammation and muscular tension.  Additionally, acupuncture is very effective at decreasing the body’s stress response.  It takes your nervous and endocrine systems out of the “fight or flight” mode, and instead into the state of calm necessary for healing and tissue repair.  Many people describe difficulties with sleep after an MVA; this includes problems falling asleep, waking frequently, or the inability to return to sleep after waking too early.  Sometimes the pain from the MVA is the source of sleep difficulties, but often anxiety also plays a roll.  Acupuncture is very effective at treating sleep disorders of either source. 

Other forms of medical treatment can also be helpful, however the goal of treatment should always be that you are ultimately able to manage independently, without the need for ongoing care.  Treatment methods such as joint manipulation can be effective in the short run for some, but unless this is followed up with education and a home program including stretching/strengthening exercises, the joints often return to a state of malalignment, requiring a repeat of this procedure.  Many times a person’s body is in a slight state of imbalance when the MVA occurs.  Prior to the MVA, an individual may be able to get away with less that optimal postures, body mechanics, etc.  After the MVA, these issues typically need to be addressed and changed to create an optimal healing environment.  An effective healthcare practitioner will be able to root out these problems and educate you on what changes you may need to make.

At Garden Home Physical Therapy and Acupuncture, we specialize in the integrative care of musculoskeletal injuries, particularly injuries of the spine.  For years, we have been helping those who have sustained MVA related injuries return to a pre-injury level of comfort and function.  Please call to make an appointment, or to discuss any questions you have about your particular situation.