Massage For Motor Vehicle Accidents

Along with seeing tons of clients for chronic pain from stress and day-to-day habits, I also work a lot with clients who have been in recent motor vehicle accidents (MVA), usually as drivers or passengers (as opposed to cyclists or pedestrians).

The most common problem in MVA clients is whiplash, which happens when the head and neck snap back (decelerate) after accelerating forward in the car. Whiplash produces immediate muscle knots – in order to protect the bones and internal organs, muscles will reflexively tighten… but later have trouble loosening up. Such a severe strain on the muscles will also create a lot of trigger points.

Symptoms will vary, depending on a number of factors. How fast was the car moving? From what direction did the car get hit? (or, what angle did the car hit something else?) Was the client facing a different direction than the impact? All of these variables determine the severity and location of the injuries.

The pain and tension pattern in my MVA clients is similar to what I see in my office worker clients, but the different causes – long term overuse and poor posture versus a single instance of physical trauma – result in the damaged muscles having completely different qualities.

To get an idea of what I mean, imagine throwing a pebble at a window. This might not have a noticeable effect, since the pebble is pretty small. But imagine doing this over and over, continually throwing a pebble at the same spot on the window. Over time, the window will start to crack and break. Think of this as the damage done to muscles through repetitive motions and poor posture.

Now imagine throwing a rock at a window. Creates an instant break, no previous damage necessary. This is like the damage done to the muscles during a car accident – a singular instance with very little connection to how healthy the muscles were before.

While the end result for both of these situations is the same (a broken window), both the means of getting there and the details of the outcome (that is, the specific features of the broken window) are dependent on the cause. And, going back to the massage side of this metaphor, these details will determine all of the variables of treatment – how much time it will take, areas of focus, level of intensity.

(The metaphor breaks down right here of course, since the only solution for both broken windows is replacing them. But never mind that.)

Turns out, injuries obtained during a car accident is one of the reasons people are required to have car insurance. It’s for fixing your car, sure, but the insurance companies will also pay for the treatments necessary to get yourself healed after an accident.

Massage treatment for MVA requires a doctor’s referral, so you need to go to a doctor before coming in for massage (which is probably a good idea anyway). From there, the massage therapist will just bill the insurance company directly for payment. You don’t need to pay out of pocket at all.

Just like trigger point work in non-MVA clients, it may take several sessions before feeling much better. And as mentioned above, there are usually muscle knots to work out before I can even start to feel the trigger points [see here for a quick visual comparison between knots and trigger points]. But because the symptoms are so severe, and because the client isn’t responsible for payment, it’s not uncommon to work weekly (or even biweekly) with MVA clients. And more frequent massages lead to a more successful outcome, no question about that.

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