It’s not often that patients think about motor vehicle accidents and rehabilitation unless they have been previously injured in a motor vehicle accident or are currently seeking rehabilitation and therapy as a result of one. At Absolute Rehab Centre, our Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, Massage Therapists and even Acupuncturists, have experience treating patients with motor vehicle accident injuries, whether they need minor rehabilitation or intensive rehabilitation.

So what should you do if you are in a motor vehicle accident and are injured?

What To Do After A Motor Vehicle Accident

Depending on the scale of the accident, a medical unit in a hospital may be the first people to treat your injuries. Alternatively, you can walk away from the accident with minor injuries, such as whiplash. If the injuries for either motor vehicle party are substantial, 911 should always be the first call you make so that medical personnel and police can assess the scene. If there are no injuries that deem a 911 call, parties involved exchange information and calls to the respective insurance companies should be made immediately so you can have coverage for the accident.

A misconception is that the driver not at fault doesn’t need to call their insurance company—but this is a mistake! Whether you are at fault or not, your insurance company needs to know because of the legal actions involved and for the cost of rehabilitation services that they can cover. Every insurance company has their own policies on motor vehicle accidents, but a common thread is insurance coverage for car accident injuries, especially for drivers in Ontario.

Motor Vehicle Accident Injury Assessment

In Ontario, there is Statutory Accident Benefits Coverage that every auto insurance policy must have by law. This coverage is meant to help with the expenses that come with motor vehicle accident injuries and usually includes rehabilitation services. In Waterloo, motor vehicle accident rehabilitation can be accessed in our clinic and your coverage will pay for some, if not all, expenses for rehabilitation treatments. Once you make your claim, the information your insurance company provides will help the Absolute Rehab Centre team take care of the payment process. All you need to do when you book in for an initial assessment is to provide us with the claim number and insurance company information on your patient intake form.

When you book an initial appointment for motor vehicle accident rehabilitation, our Physiotherapist and Clinic Director, Dr. Greg Heikoop, will examine the areas that are affected by your injury, highlighted on your initial intake form and discovered through a series of questions and movement tests. One of the most common injuries from motor vehicle accidents is whiplash

Understanding the Movements of Whiplash

Whiplash is the injury sustained from a force of acceleration and deceleration, jolting the head and neck into unsupported positions, usually in a motion of forwards, backwards and forwards again. The position where the head is pushed backwards is referred to as hypertension, while the position where the head is pushed forwards is called hyperflexion. In the state of hypertension, the muscles and lower part of the neck’s vertebrae are injured, while in the state of hyperflexion, it is the muscles and vertebrae in the upper neck that are injured. With these two sites of injury, Whiplash pushed the neck into a slight “S” shape, which must be corrected through rehabilitation.

Diagnosing whiplash from a Motor Vehicle Accident is fairly common practice. During the assessment, you may be asked about your history of neck problems and you may need to get an X-Ray to confirm that there are no broken bones in your neck. Assuming there are no other signs of injury, such as concussion, slipped discs or nerve damage in the arms and legs, you will be diagnosed with whiplash.

Although you can get whiplash from a variety of scenarios like playing sports, falling awkwardly, or even physical abuse, most patients get whiplash from motor vehicle accidents. And while the injury itself happens with movements of the head and neck, the effects of whiplash can manifest physically throughout the body, and in severe cases, in both physical and psychological effects.  

The Physical Effects of Whiplash

When you get hit with whiplash, the effects manifest themselves in pain that radiates from the neck and head, down into the shoulders, arm and hands and spine.  The pain is described as severe or a tingling pain that happens with movements in the upper body. There is also a feeling of instability in the neck because the muscles have been shaken.

Balance and coordination are two other problem areas for those who have been involved in a motor vehicle accident with whiplash. Because the brain is jolted violently back and forth, the vestibular system in the brain that is responsible for the sense of balance and coordination is disturbed.

Psychological and Psychosocial Effects of Whiplash

As with any traumatic injury to the brain, there are induced psychological effects depending on the severity of the injury. After whiplash, the body must readjust to its new state, which can be difficult in a psychological and psychosocial sense as well. This is known as Whiplash Associated Disorders, simply referring to the psychological outcomes as triggered by the initial injury.

With whiplash, some of the physical injuries such as neck pain and headaches can have an effect on the way patients behave towards others. For example, if a patient has neck pain that is disturbing their quality of life, they may appear more irritable or refuse to partake in activities they once enjoyed, inducing depression. They may also find themselves battling with insomnia due to the pain associated with whiplash, causing extra stress in doing daily activities and a lack of concentration.

Of course, treating Whiplash Associated Disorders is a two-fold approach. One part of the approach is to treat the psychological aspects. The other part of the approach is to get to the root of these problems. Going for rehabilitation and therapy at a rehabilitation centre will help the patient cope and eventually eliminate the pain. Without the trigger of pain, the psychological and psychosocial symptoms of Whiplash Associated Disorder will also decrease over time.

How Our Physiotherapists treat Whiplash

In the past, cervical collars were used to keep the neck and head from too much movement, however, in recent years, it has been proven that it is better to slowly get the neck and head muscles back in motion through physiotherapy exercises.  Our Waterloo Physiotherapists are often the first to treat patients because we know that building a range of motion and increase muscle strength is key to a patient’s recovery.

Our physiotherapists will examine your current range of motion after whiplash, and help you create a recovery plan that slowly increases supported neck and head movements. Your physiotherapist will assist in gently stretching out your neck muscles to help the ligaments return to their original state. They may also help you with neural stretching exercises—a type of stretch that targets inflamed or damaged nerves. By doing neural stretching such as chin tucks or side-to-side rotations, you help stretch out areas where nerves are put under the most pressure, while also increasing your range of motion.

Our physiotherapists may also provide exercises for you to complete at home. These exercises are tailored to the individual’s case of whiplash and should only be done at the direction of your Physiotherapist. Your physiotherapist may also suggest making minor lifestyle adjustments to help in the healing of your muscles. These suggestions often include limiting the amount of time spent sitting at a desk, adding extra lumbar support to the neck with a foam roller when sitting, or incorporating a 10-minute stretching routine into your day. They may also suggest complimentary rehabilitation treatments such as Massage Therapy, Chiropractic Care or Acupuncture from other members at Absolute Rehab Centre.

Massage Therapy, Chiropractic Care and Acupuncture

Massage therapy, Chiropractic Care and Acupuncture are all complementary treatments that can be used in addition to Physiotherapy, at the discretion of your Physiotherapist. What may work for some patients will not have the same effect for others, which is why these options need to be discussed with your Physiotherapist.

Massage Therapy is usually the safest and most effective complementary treatment in conjunction with Physiotherapy. Your Massage Therapist will help break down parts of the soft tissue that are damaged from whiplash so that you can work on rebuilding stronger, supporting tissue. 

Chiropractic Care or Acupuncture can also be used to help with whiplash rehabilitation. Chiropractic Care, like Physiotherapy, will focus on the movement of the muscles, however, the movements involve a certain level of gentle manipulation of the muscles. This can be anything from your Chiropractor gently thrusting problematic joints near the spine, to manipulating muscles through pushing on trigger points. Acupuncture is another common method that Chiropractors and Acupuncturists will perform for patients with whiplash. The acupuncture points targeted by acupuncture needles are directly related to the nerves in the spinal column.  In the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture will free the flow of energy in the nerves and help restore balance in the neck and head, decreasing the amount of pain and removing toxic energy. In Western practices, Acupuncture works to decrease inflammation of the nerves and muscles, allowing better circulation and an increased range of motion.

Recovering From Whiplash and Your Motor Vehicle Accident

If you are a Motor Vehicle Accident patient recovering from whiplash, you should expect to see improvements in your neck movements within 4-8 weeks. This is just an estimate and it does depend on the severity of your whiplash, and the other injuries you may have sustained along with whiplash. Should you have any questions about the recovery plan provided by your Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Massage Therapist or Acupuncturist, please don’t hesitate to call our Rehabilitation Centre. For any psychological effects that occur in addition to whiplash, please be sure to contact your doctor for medical help.