Many of our clients see us because of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs). Even minor car accidents can cause a number of serious health concerns, including whiplash, concussions, strains, or sprains. Getting treatment in a timely manner ensures your accident doesn’t result in life-long pain or injury.
How do I get treatment after a motor vehicle accident in Alberta?
- The first step after a motor vehicle accident is to see a health care provider (physician, physiotherapist) within 10 days of your accident to be assessed.
- Your healthcare provider will complete an AB-2 form making a diagnosis of a WAD 1, 2, 3, or 4 injury (more on this below). Depending on your diagnosis, you will then be prescribed a certain amount of treatments over a predetermined amount of time.
- The vast majority of the time, people are diagnosed with a WAD 2 injury (which is a second-degree sprain/strain of the spine). You would be given 21 treatments over 90 days from the accident. During these 90 days or 21 sessions (whatever comes first), your healthcare provider would direct bill your car insurance company for your treatment costs.
- After the 90 days or 21 sessions, if you are not fully recovered and still require more treatment, the healthcare provider would complete an AB-4 form requesting a specified amount of further treatment. The provincial protocols state that clients can continue with therapy but must use their private benefits (if they have any) first and whatever their benefits don’t cover, the car insurance company will pay the remainder.
Have you recently been in an accident? If you’re looking for pain relief, contact us today to book an appointment.
Do I get to choose my healthcare provider?
Your car insurance company may recommend a physiotherapist or other healthcare providers, but you do not need to see one of these “preferred providers.”
Preferred providers want to continue to be referred by insurance companies, so they are incentivized to keep costs low. This is a conflict of interest.
At the end of your initial treatment time (likely 90 days/21 treatments), preferred providers may be more likely to discharge you with a home exercise program even if you are still injured, stiff, or sore rather than advocate for you to receive the additional treatments you need.
You have a right to choose a healthcare provider who has your best interests in mind and isn’t concerned with reducing costs for insurance companies and staying on their preferred providers’ list.
Common Injuries From Motor Vehicle Accidents
While every motor vehicle accident is different, there are a number of common injuries that we see.
Whiplash usually refers to the neck, but can also include injuries to the upper or lower back caused by rapid acceleration or deceleration in a motor vehicle. With whiplash, the ligaments and muscles in the spine are overstretched and injured. This is a sprain/strain injury.
There are also a number of other tissues that get overstretched, compressed and damaged, including nerves, blood vessels, joint capsules, and vertebral discs. The joints themselves also get compressed during whiplash, leading to cartilage damage, bone bruising, and possible compression fractures if severe enough.
What are the different types of whiplash?
Whiplash is diagnosed into four types of Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD): WAD 1, WAD 2, WAD 3, and WAD 4.
- WAD 1 is characterized by a complaint of neck pain, stiffness or tenderness without any physical signs. Range of motion is fine, there is no significant muscle tenderness on palpation, and joint movement is normal.
- WAD 2 is characterized by a complaint of neck pain and a musculoskeletal sign(s), such as decreased range of motion and tenderness.
- WAD 3 is characterized by a complaint of neck pain and some kind of neurological sign, such as decreased range of motion, point tenderness, reduced/altered sensation, and muscle weakness due to nerve injury.
- WAD 4 is the most serious and is characterized by a complaint of neck pain as well as a fracture or dislocation.
Have you been recently diagnosed with a WAD injury? Book an appointment today to feel better, fast!
What are the common signs and/or symptoms of whiplash?
Common signs and symptoms of whiplash include:
- Muscles in the neck and back feel stiff and tight
- Reduced range of motion/flexibility in the neck or back
- Dizziness, tinnitus
- Jaw pain
- Numbness and/or tingling in arms, hands, fingers
When should you seek treatment after suspected whiplash?
If you feel the least bit stiff or sore after a motor vehicle accident, you should seek treatment right away. Injuries from motor vehicle accidents can last longer than expected and you need to be seen by a healthcare provider within 10 days in order to be fully covered for treatments by your auto insurance policy. Otherwise, you will need to pay using your private benefits.
It’s so important to receive treatment for whiplash injuries to recover faster and more fully. About 15% of people who have whiplash will continue to have symptoms beyond 6 months. People recovering from whiplash need guidance from a health care provider such as a physiotherapist on how to manage and treat their symptoms themselves, and how to modify their life so as to not aggravate symptoms.
Have you been in a motor vehicle accident and are experiencing any stiffness or soreness?
Headaches or concussion
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a brain injury resulting from an impact (such as a blow, bump or hit) to the head, neck or face. It can also occur when someone’s body is hit, causing the head and brain to move rapidly.
In the context of a motor vehicle accident, concussions can happen when the force of impact causes the occupant’s head to hit the steering wheel, dashboard, side window or an expanding airbag. Concussions can also occur with the extreme quick movement of the head moving back and forth during impact, even without hitting your head.
There are a number of different grades of concussions, and there is no one classification system. Our physiotherapy clinic uses the Torg Grading System.
Have you been recently diagnosed with a concussion? Book an appointment today to feel better, fast!
What are the common signs and symptoms of concussions?
The common signs and symptoms of concussion include:
- Not thinking clearly
- Sleep issues (either too much or too little)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of balance
- Emotional issues (sadness, nervousness, anxiety)
- Short-term memory problems
- Blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Headaches/Head pressure
Headaches without Concussion
Headaches can present after a motor vehicle accident without a concussion. Often, these headaches are the result of injuries to the neck and the pain is referred to the head (called “cervicogenic headaches”).
Headaches could also be caused by an injury to the jaw joints (TMJ injury) or from hitting the head on the headrest, airbags, or side of the car.
Uncommonly, headaches resulting from an MVA, can be caused by trauma to a blood vessel in the brain. Other symptoms usually coincide with these types of headaches, such as the headache being extreme and unbearable, people can experience double vision, blindness to parts of the visual field, and numbness or tingling to the face and/or tongue.
Experiencing headaches or symptoms of a concussion?
Get in touch with us today. Concussions and headaches caused by motor vehicle accidents can last for a long time. The sooner you undergo a thorough treatment plan, the sooner you can get back to your regular life, work and sport.
Jaw Pain or TMD
Motor vehicle accidents can cause jaw pain or injury to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) when the impact of the accident causes the jaw to be forcefully jolted/moved. This injures the ligaments, muscles, discs, blood vessels, nerves, joint capsules, and bones of the TMJ.
What is TMD?
TMD stands for temporomandibular disorders and refers to any pain originating from the TMJ (temporomandibular joint). It can be caused by sprains, strains, disc issues (derangement), instability of the joint, muscle tension and weakness, or arthritis.
What are the common symptoms of TMD?
- Clicking (painful or not)
- Reduced opening or flexibility
- Pain with opening/closing (chewing, eating)
- Pain located over the joint (in front of the ear), earache
- TMD can radiate pain to the sinuses, cheeks, upper teeth/toothache and temple area of the head causing headaches
Experiencing jaw pain or TMD after a motor vehicle accident?
It’s important to get treatment as soon as possible if you’re feeling pain in your jaw after a motor vehicle accident. With the help of a physiotherapist and perhaps your dentist, you can reduce the painful symptoms and get back to feeling like yourself again.
Back, neck, arm, leg, and/or shoulder pain
Because the forces involved in a car accident are very significant and occur in a very short period of time, tissues in your body can get over-stretched and damaged. Ligaments, muscles, tendons, and joint capsules throughout your body can be affected. Cartilage and bones can also be damaged and bruised, leading to pain.
Some of the common body injuries besides whiplash include:
- Muscle strains (usually rotator cuff)
- Acromioclavicular (AC) joint sprains
- Subluxations (partial dislocations) of the shoulder joint
- Pelvis sprain/strain
- Impact injuries to knees
- Seat belt injuries across the chest
If you’re experiencing pain in your back, neck, arm, leg and/or shoulder pain after a motor vehicle accident, getting treatment as soon as possible is key to a smooth recovery.
What is chronic pain?
The common definition of chronic pain is pain or symptoms that last longer than 3 months even though the injured tissues have physically healed and there is no longer evidence of tissue injury.
If you are experiencing chronic pain from a motor vehicle accident, our experienced physiotherapists can help.
Vertigo creates the sensation that you or your surroundings are moving/spinning. It is caused when there’s a problem with the vestibular system in one or both ears that result in the brain receiving the incorrect message that the head is moving.
What is the difference between vertigo and dizziness?
Dizziness refers to feeling off-balance or like you’re going to fall. Vertigo specifically refers to the specific sensation that you or your surroundings are spinning/moving.
People with vertigo may feel dizzy, but not everyone who feels dizzy has vertigo.
The Symptoms of Vertigo
The primary symptom of vertigo is the sensation that you or your surroundings are spinning/moving. This can be accompanied by the following symptoms:
- A loss of balance or the feeling that you are going to fall
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Motor Vehicle Accidents and Vertigo
There are a number of reasons why someone might be experiencing vertigo after a motor vehicle accident, including injuries to the neck and inner ear, concussion, or, rarely, injuries to the blood vessels in the brain.
If you’re finding yourself experiencing vertigo after a motor vehicle accident, you should seek treatment immediately. Vertigo is extremely uncomfortable and can be debilitating. You can get relief from your symptoms with targeted physiotherapy treatments.
MVA Treatment Options
When you visit us after a motor vehicle accident, our physiotherapists will work with you to determine the cause of your symptoms. After a diagnosis, we’ll create a targeted and customized treatment plan to address those symptoms and the underlying injury to get you relief from pain and restore your full movement as quickly as possible.
If needed, we may refer you to your physician if we are concerned that the extent of your injuries requires diagnostic imaging or medication.
If you have a jaw injury or TMD, we may also refer you to your dentist for further treatment.
Physiotherapy For MVA Injuries & Whiplash
Our ultimate goal with physiotherapy for motor vehicle accidents is to reduce your pain, restore your spinal movement and help you fully return to your work and hobbies. This is achieved by reducing muscle and myofascial tension and adhesions, increasing the strength of the affected muscles, increasing circulation, and increasing the range of motion.
The following treatments are commonly used for treating injuries from motor vehicle accidents:
We start by educating you on what your injuries are and giving you a prognosis on what the road to recovery looks like and how long it will possibly take. We also discuss how to manage the symptoms on your own and share which activities to avoid and which activities will help and not hamper your recovery.
Depending on your injury type, we will show you exercises aimed at strengthening muscles that are injured and weak in order to increase muscular support to injured areas and joints.
To help reduce muscle tension and increase the range of motion of affected areas, we create a custom stretching program appropriate for your injury.
Vertebral mobilization increases the mobility and flexibility of joints. Joints can become stiff and sore after an accident and need to be stretched and mobilized to regain their normal amount of movement.
Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)
Intramuscular stimulation (IMS) therapy involves inserting thin needles (like those used in acupuncture) into muscles that are causing pain. This calms the nerves and relaxes tight muscles.
KT tape/Kinesio Taping/Neuroproprioceptive Tape
This technique helps to reduce muscle tension and promote proper muscle coordination.
Ultrasound and TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
Ultrasound and TENS can be helpful if the condition is too acute or too sensitive to do much manual work. They help to increase circulation and reduce inflammation, thereby reducing pain.
Ready to start feeling better? Book your appointment for a motor vehicle accident physiotherapy session.
Massage Therapy For MVA Injuries & Whiplash
Massage therapy can be used as an effective treatment for Motor Vehicle Accident injuries and whiplash. Cupping, which involves creating suction using special cups, can also be used during massage to increase circulation, reduce muscle tone, and release connective tissue adhesions.
The benefits of massage therapy for MVA injuries include:
- Increases blood flow to injured areas, which helps with healing
- Reduces muscle/connective tissue tension
- Reduces adhesions/scarring
- Reduces the feeling of stiffness and tension
- Increases range of motion
- Helps with overall relaxation and pain relief, which can reduce anxiety
- Can improve sleep
Manual Therapy For MVA Injuries & Whiplash
Manual therapy is a hands-on technique used to increase blood flow to injured areas, reduce muscle and connective tissue tension, reduce adhesions/scarring, and increase the range of motion to promote healing.
Manual therapy can include myofascial release (which targets tight tissues that cause pain and restrict movement), trigger point release (used to target “knots”) and vertebral/joint mobilization (gentle movements to increase motion in the spine or other joints).
Acupuncture For MVA Injuries & Whiplash
Acupuncture can be another effective treatment for MVA injuries and whiplash, often used in conjunction with other treatments. Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific spots on your body. Stimulating these points helps correct imbalances in the body which will reduce your pain and increase your function.
For motor vehicle accidents and other injuries, acupuncture can be used to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow (which reduces pain), reduce stress and anxiety associated with the trauma of the accident, and assist with more restful sleep.
Benefits Of Seeing A Physiotherapist To Treat Injuries From MVAs
Seeing a physiotherapist to treat injuries from motor vehicle accidents is extremely beneficial. Our holistic approach focuses on understanding your injury and creating a custom treatment plan to get you feeling better faster. Our goal is to improve your level of activity, reduce your pain and educate you on how to avoid re-injury.
The benefits of physiotherapy to treat injuries from MVAs include:
- Supports fast recovery
- Alleviates pain
- Prevents long-term damage
- Improves strength and flexibility
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I start physiotherapy after an accident?
You should start physiotherapy as soon as possible after an accident. Most importantly, the sooner you begin treatment, the better your outcome. You’ll start feeling better sooner and can help avoid aggravating your injury further.
Secondly, to be covered by your automobile insurance policy in Alberta, you’ll need to be assessed within 10 days of the accident.
Do I need a referral from my doctor or insurance to book an appointment?
You do not need a referral from your doctor or insurance company to book an appointment with us for injuries due to a motor vehicle accident. We can help you navigate the rules around insurance and fill out the necessary forms.
Do I have to go to the place my insurance recommends?
No, you do not have to go to the clinic(s) recommended by your insurance company. In fact, we suggest you choose another clinic. Insurance company’s “preferred providers” are incentivized to keep costs low for the insurance company so that they continue to receive those referrals. That means they may be less likely to recommend further treatment — even if you need it.
How long does it take for severe whiplash to heal?
Whiplash can take weeks to months to heal (with treatment). It usually resolves between 3 and 6 months, but about 15% of people will continue to have some symptoms. Working with an experienced physiotherapist can help improve your outcomes and healing time.
Book your appointment today.
Can a physiotherapist diagnose whiplash?
Yes, physiotherapists are qualified to diagnose and treat whiplash.
What can I expect to happen at my first physiotherapy appointment after a car accident?
At your first physiotherapy appointment after a car accident, you can expect the following process:
- We’ll discuss your accident, your symptoms and the impact these injuries are having on your work and daily living
- We’ll talk about any other concerns and go through your medical history
- We’ll complete a physical exam to determine the type and extent of your injuries
- We’ll start by providing some education on how to avoid aggravating your injury (guiding you on what activities to continue/stop, what adjustments you should make to your routine, etc.),
- We’ll show you how to do appropriate exercises/stretches
- Depending on the stage of healing, we may do manual therapy, electro-modality application, kinesio taping, acupuncture, IMS or apply heat or ice
How can I sleep with whiplash?
Sleeping with whiplash can be difficult! Here are some tips on how to get to sleep when you have painful whiplash:
- Try to keep your head in a neutral position with a pillow that stabilizes your head. A neutral position is where your head is not flexed or extended, not rotated or tilted to either side.
- Place a pillow under your knees while sleeping on your back or place a pillow between your knees/ankles if you sleep on your side.
- You may benefit from using a heating pad before going to bed
- Take medication if advised by your physician
What is MVA Rehabilitation?
Motor vehicle rehabilitation involves treatments aimed at reducing pain, healing injuries caused by the accident, and getting you back to your pre-accident self. This can be done through physiotherapy, massage, IMS, cupping, exercise/stretches, and more.
How long does it take for muscles to heal after a car accident?
It can take 6-8 weeks for muscles to heal after a car accident but may take longer. Often it’s the nerves that continue to be irritated that lead to the muscles continuing to be tight.
Other injuries can take longer to heal (ligaments getting overstretched and not tightening can lead to instability; continued muscle weakness; disc injuries are all examples) which can also cause the muscles to continue to be tight, causing pain and stiffness.
Are there any activities I shouldn’t do if I have whiplash or a concussion?
There are activities that you should avoid if you have whiplash or a concussion, but it depends on the stage of your healing. You can do anything as long as you do not have symptoms or in other words, if it hurts, don’t do it.
In the early stages of concussion, you should avoid bright lights and loud noises as well as lots of visual movement since this will reproduce symptoms.
Any activity that increases your heart rate, involves impact, and involves quick head movements can reproduce symptoms and should also be avoided at all stages of a concussion.
Ready to book an appointment?
Our physiotherapists and massage therapists have extensive experience treating injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents. Starting treatment today is the best way to promote faster healing, reduce the pain from your symptoms, and get you on the right track towards recovery.