Car accidents can be minor fender benders to full-on high-speed collisions. While injuries are more likely in one experience than the other, any crash can cause physical trauma or chronic pain. Knee pain and neck pain ar common after a crash.
Seeking medical attention is the primary response following an accident and apparent injury. Still, some injuries or traumas cannot resolve with medicine or surgery alone. Sometimes, damage affects the range of motion, impacting mobility and flexibility.
When a collision causes a change in physical ability, patients need targeted therapy. Unfortunately, not all patients seek treatment or realize they need it. Physical therapy or PT can prevent permanent handicaps or lessen their severity. Still, what is physical therapy? How do you know when you need it, and what is its role in accident recovery?
What Is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy (PT) is a treatment primarily focused on restoring or improving physical function. The practice can also help with pain management and enhanced well-being.
Considered movement experts, highly skilled physical therapists can work in various professional settings. A physical therapy clinic is one dedicated institution. Still, practitioners also work in hospitals, home health organizations, and more.
In the U.S., all PTs must get training and licensure through accredited programs. The states might have specific expectations of physical therapists. There are also specialties like orthopedic physical therapy.
The American Physical Therapy Association sets clinical practice guidelines for practitioners in the physical therapy industry.
The programs and prerequisites for licensure are extensive. Some of the topics covered in training include:
- Biology and anatomy
- Cellular histology
- Exercise physiology
The Role of Physical Therapy Services in Car Accident Recovery
Physical therapy is not always a curative process. Many people see PT as a way of restoring lost function, but restoration is not always possible. Even the best physical therapist cannot guarantee a full recovery. Then, what is the point or role of PT?
The role of physical therapy is both diagnostic and physiological. A therapist helps patients conform to realistic expectations of injury recovery. They establish a prescriptive exercise routine for pain relief and to improve the quality of life.
Physical therapists are not miracle workers. Still, with commitment from patients, the work can seem miraculous. The role of the therapists is three-fold: diagnose hidden injuries, improve range of motion, and aid in recovery.
1. Hidden Injuries
Many people assume that injuries are apparent following a car wreck. Some injuries are visible and obvious, but others linger beneath the surface.
What some people fail to realize is the body’s ability to mask pain. A collision is a traumatic event, and it causes the body and brain to enter fight-or-flight mode. The chemical responses in the brain and body include a rush of adrenaline — the surge of hormones masks pain receptors in an ode to evolutionary survival.
While one might think the hormones wear off once the threat is over, they would be incorrect. The effects of the adrenaline spike can last for days or more. Thus, a patient can have an injury and not know it until several days later.
A physical therapist understands the mechanisms of the body. They know that some injuries might hide in plain sight.
2. Range of Motion
The core focus of PT is on the range of motion or mobility. The joints of the human body have an expected range. When a person is in an accident or sustains injuries, the body’s movement can become restricted.
A physical therapist wants to help patients restore natural movement and range with manual therapy, or soft tissue mobilization. Yet, patients must be willing to accept limitations, depending on the injury’s severity. Still, many patients achieve improved mobility and flexibility with dedication and practice.
Recovery does not have the same definition for every patient. Still, every patient can often expect some degree of improvement when committed to PT.
A physical therapist’s role in recovery is to structure treatments or exercises. The sessions are strategic and progressive. The goal of the therapist and patient is to restore as much movement as possible.
Yet, quality of life is more important than a complete recovery in some instances. Sometimes, alleviating pain must take precedence. Thus, depending on the injury, PT might focus on adjusting to a limited range of motion.
Benefits of Physical Therapy
Some patients do not like the idea that PT cannot always restore a complete range of motion. They often believe the best physical therapist should be able to repair all damage. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Yet do not fret.
Physical therapy is not only about restoring function to the body. It is also about improving confidence and acceptance when complete recovery is impossible.
A qualified physical therapist can help patients achieve greater mobility and less pain. Even when anticipating limited mobility, there are significant advantages to committing to PT.
1. Accelerated Recovery Process
Working with a licensed physical therapist can speed up recovery times. It is impossible to specify a timeline because of the variety of injuries. Still, PT patients fair better than non-PT patients.
It is easier to narrow down the recovery window when working with a physical therapist. The average recovery times for various injuries include:
- Two to four weeks for muscle
- Four to six weeks for tendons
- six to eight weeks for bone
- 10 to 12 weeks for ligaments
- Up to 12 weeks for cartilage
2. Reduced Pain and Medication Dependence
The opioid epidemic made doctors and patients more leary of pain medications. Regardless of your take on pain medications, car accident injuries may require them. It is challenging, if not impossible, to recover from a broken bone or another injury without adequate pain management.
Fortunately, physical therapy can help curb prescription dependence and relieve pain. PTs help rebuild strength and function to injury sites through exercise and routines. The realignment of the body reduces pain because the joints, muscles, and ligaments are no longer working against each other.
3. Improved Range of Motion
Complacency is one of the worst things for an injury. The longer a patient sits still or ignores an injury, the more likely they will impair their range of motion.
Stagnancy can stiffen joints and shorten ligaments and muscles. The lack of use can result in more significant pain when moving the joints. Physical therapy helps reduce pain by stretching and using injured areas.
It is counterintuitive to exercise an injury. Still, it is necessary to restore flexibility. A therapist does not want a patient to lose mobility from a lack of use. Therefore, exercises and routines focus on the range of motion. With enough effort, patients can see significant gains or complete restoration of movement. Massage therapy can also be beneficial.
4. Increased Strength
What is physical therapy when it comes to specific or severe injuries? Sometimes, an injury will require surgery that mandates bedrest. The surgery and recovery can lead to weakened joints and muscles. PT must focus on rebuilding strength to ensure mobility is possible.
When you think about it, even without surgery, PT is an exercise-based approach to recovery. Thus, strength training is almost always a part of the process. Most patients will exit PT stronger than they entered.
The 72-Hour Window
People often wonder how soon after an auto accident they should go to physical therapy treatments. The answer is within 72 hours. A lot can happen within the three-day window, especially with hidden injuries. Swelling, soreness, stiffness, etc., can all develop within the short window. It is a greater struggle to deal with acquired injuries than developing ones.
If you see a physical therapist within the 72-hour window, it is possible to avoid some pain. For instance, a physical therapist can recommend exercises to limit symptoms of whiplash. Additionally, they can make suggestions for reducing or avoiding significant swelling. Essentially, the sooner you visit a therapist, the better.
Avoiding the Physical Therapy Clinic Can be Detrimental
After a car crash, you should go to a physical therapist to be on the safe side. Clinic avoidance can lead to problems and longer recoveries if hidden injuries exist.
Additionally, avoiding therapy can lead to permanent loss of movement in some cases. Some injuries can cause reduced blood flow or nerve response to limbs. If you leave such injuries untreated, you can lose the area’s functionality.
You can talk to your primary care physician if you do not know a physical therapist is necessary. They will likely discuss your symptoms to help you decide if therapy is an appropriate option. Still, it does not hurt to consult with a licensed therapist.
Get Help Today
When looking for a trusted physical therapist, you want to consider areas of expertise. While all PTs learn the same fundamentals, several receive extra training in topics like sports therapy and other cutting-edge techniques. You will want to find a licensed physical therapist who understands auto accident collisions, work-related and other injuries.
If you live in the Brooklyn, New York, NY area, you may want to consider the PT professionals at Metro Healthcare Partners physical therapy clinics. As one of the leading medical clinics in the area, the facility’s physical therapists understand the intricacies of car accident injuries and are ready to help. We accept no-fault insurance, workers’ compensation, and most major medical insurance plans.
Contact Metro Healthcare Partners for more information or to schedule an appointment.