Physical Therapy for Pain Caused by a Car Crash


Everyone living in Phoenix knows how congested our streets get when a car accident has occurred. Drivers slow down, and at some points stop, due to the curiosity factor. But, does anyone ever drive by those accidents thinking to themselves, ‘well, that person is going to need physical therapy’? People don’t, but they probably should.

According to ADOT, in 2017, there were 126,845 total crashes involving vehicles. Out of those, there were 56,636 reported injuries. That comes out to about 155 people injured by car accidents every day. Furthermore, the number of collisions is increasing. After a motor vehicle accident (MVA) it is important to receive timely medical care. That way, something as “simple” as acute neck pain doesn’t become a chronic impairment.

The old treatments for MVA-related injuries were to get lots of rest, take prescribed pain medications, treat with modalities such as heat or ice, and use a neck brace for those with whiplash. While these are important aspects of healing, these measures are Band-Aids; they do not address the origin of the pain. Nowadays, that philosophy has taken a U-turn with an overabundance of research concluding that activity and early intervention from physical therapy are vital to recovery in the short- and long-term.

Physical therapy treatment after an injury from a crash helps greatly reduce pain, minimize joint stiffness, and restore full range of motion for affected body parts. Not every injury type, severity, and location are the same nor show up immediately after the accident. The onset of some injuries can occur anywhere from days to even months after the accident. The severity of issues can depend on numerous factors, such as:

  • Seatbelt usage
  • Angle of the collision (front, side, or rear)
  • Speed of crash
  • Airbag deployment
  • Direction that the injured person was facing (forward or sideways)

The most common impairments/injuries seen for physical therapy intervention due to MVAs are:

  • Neck/shoulder injuries from whiplash
  • Low back injuries
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Numbness/tingling, weakness
  • Dizziness/headaches

To improve general mobility and improve postural strength needed for proper soft tissue healing and nerve irritation reduction, these five fundamental exercises would be important to perform:

  1. Upper trapezius and levator scapulae stretch: perform three repetitions for both stretches, holding for thirty seconds
    Upper trapezius and levator scapulae stretchUpper trapezius and levator scapulae stretch
  2. Lower trunk rotations: perform fifteen reps each direction, holding for five seconds in each direction
    Lower trunk rotations
  3. Hamstring stretches: perform three repetitions for both legs, hold each repetition for thirty seconds
    Hamstring stretches
  4. Posterior pelvic tilts: perform twenty repetitions, hold each repetition for five seconds
    Posterior pelvic tilts
  5. Deep neck flexor activation: perform twenty repetitions, hold each repetition for five seconds
    Deep neck flexor activation

Not every injury is the same, and these exercises above are meant to be utilized in conjunction with physical therapy as this will allow the healing process to optimally occur. Ultimately, it is vital to restore function and allow oneself to return to everyday life without pain. Temporary relief measures are not the solution and do no address the damaged tissue/muscle or dysfunctional joints. Hence, early physical therapy intervention will allow for the best possible outcome after experiencing a motor vehicle accident. If you’ve recently been in a crash and are experiencing pain, schedule an appointment with us.

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Jonathan Seidberg

PT, DPT | Biltmore Location