How Long Should I Go to Physical Therapy After a Car Accident?

Nov 17, 2020

How Long Should I Go to Physical Therapy After a Car AccidentWhen you’ve been injured in a car accident, you might not be able to bounce back as quickly as you’d hoped. An injury like whiplash can leave you with pain and other symptoms that may not go away without a little extra support. In order to fully recover and return to your regular daily activities, your doctor may recommend you go to physical therapy treatment for whiplash. A physical therapist will help you work through your lingering symptoms from your whiplash injury while also focusing on your recovery so you can get back to the activities you enjoy.

Why Whiplash Is So Serious

Whiplash is most common injury you can get from a car accident and can affect your neck as well as your back and shoulders. It can also lead to other injuries like a herniated disc in your neck. When the force of the accident causes your head to fling forward and then jerk backward, it can affect the whole structure of your neck: the spine, vertebrae, discs, muscles, and soft tissues. Common effects of whiplash include headaches, pain and stiffness in your neck and back, and even muscle spasms in your shoulders and arms. Some people also report blurred vision, ringing in your ears, and irritability.

Timeline for Treatment

Immediately after the Accident

When determining a timeline for your treatment for whiplash, your doctor and physical therapist will want to assess your symptoms and determine their severity. Determining a timeline can be tricky because whiplash symptoms tend to not show up right away after a car accident. Whiplash is sometimes referred to as a hidden car accident injury because you might not notice how much it is affecting you until days after the accident.

After the stress and trauma of a car accident, your adrenaline is pumping and your body can even go into shock. When your body is full of adrenaline and you are experiencing shock, you may not be able to recognize pain and other symptoms of your injury right away. Whiplash symptoms can develop in the hours and even days after the accident as you are able to calm down and any swelling in the area goes down.

Once any swelling you may have had in your neck and back goes down, you may become more aware of just how much pain you are in after the accident. That is why it is best to seek treatment from a car accident doctor as soon as you can after the accident. Car accident doctors are familiar with the signs and symptoms of whiplash and can help you start taking preventative measures to prepare and manage any developing symptoms.

Physical Therapy Treatment Options

The first goal of physical therapy for a car accident injury like whiplash is to manage your pain and reduce inflammation. When the muscles of your neck are strained out of their normal range of motion they can become aggravated and even tear, causing swelling and inflammation. Your physical therapist will likely incorporate cold therapies like icing the area to help decrease the swelling. Taking care of the inflammation can also help manage the initial pain from the accident. Physical therapists also use massage and other gentle techniques to help address the pain and swelling in your neck muscles.

Once the inflammation dies down, many people experience stiff muscles, which can be very uncomfortable and painful. Working with a physical therapist in treatment for whiplash can help to combat muscle stiffness. When your neck muscles stiffen up it can become difficult and painful to turn your head in certain directions, which can also impair your ability to do normal tasks like drive your car. A physical therapist will use gentle techniques to keep your muscles loose and encourage continued range of motion. If stiffness does settle in, there are techniques to gently encourage your muscles to strengthen and gain flexibility to restore range of motion.

Physical therapists also use stretching and exercises as main techniques to help address the common symptoms of a whiplash injury. Stretching helps to keep the muscles in your neck, back, and shoulders loose and encourage healthy blood flow to the area, which promotes healing. Stretching is also one way to maintain range of motion. Exercises prescribed by your physical therapist help you to gradually regain your strength and to teach your muscles how to better support your body.

Comprehensive Care for Whiplash

Avoid any doctor who promises a one-size-fits-all approach with a guaranteed timeline because this doesn’t take into account your particular experience, injuries, and medical history. Instead, find a physical therapist who will develop a plan of treatment for whiplash that will be individualized to your needs. This comprehensive approach to your care will be the most efficient and effective way to get you back to your normal activities and fully recovered.


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