Laura has been my patient for a while now. She is a ray of sunshine, and she came in a couple of months ago after a terrible car accident in which the car flipped and rolled several times.
The hospital released her with no apparent injuries after different medical exams. But she couldn’t deny her pain: they weren’t just in her head. Her legs, shoulders, back, her digestion, and her pounding head were creating a myriad of symptoms. She was so tired–no sleep was enough. She couldn’t focus on anything for a long time or be exposed to bright light or noisy/busy environments.
A Car Crash: the Osteopathic Point of View:
We often assume that traumas/shocks are transmitted in a straight line in the body, but the body reacts to impacts in many ways. Each connective tissue assimilates and transmits the forces of the impact differently, sometime in illogical directions.
Think of a house after an earthquake, the house being the body; the house is still up, and can look fine from the outside but the whole structure has been affected in many ways, and is now very fragile. For the body to “keep the house up” is very costly in energy, this is why patients feel so drained, and don’t seem to be able to regenerate through sleep.
The body tries to absorb the impact by creating adaptations to maintain a relatively balanced pain free new equilibrium within itself. The success of this procedure in the body depends on:
- The type of trauma ( direct/indirect, acceleration/deceleration, angle of the impact, foreseeing the event…)
- Previous injuries ( traumatic or sports related)
- Cumulative effects
- State at the moment of the trauma (Fatigue, Emotional state…)
After the event, the nervous system will also be impaired through the proprioception system (perception of where the body parts are in space through receptors in the muscles, ligaments, going to the nervous system). This will impair the joints, the guts, and the cranio-sacral system by a disinformation of the nervous centers of the body leading to poor muscle contraction and coordination, affecting the balance of the body.
When I first saw Laura, her body was in shock, her nervous system was “stuck” in a fight or flight state. This happens when our central nervous system gets off balance; the orthosympatic system becomes dominant getting the blood to the limbs increasing the lung function and heart function to help us run away from the threat.
The treatment goal is then to restore the balance of the central nervous system, help patients to slow down and give enough time for the body to do its job: “heal itself”. We also deal with the different joints/body parts affected through the pathway of the shock wave; each patient is very different, no matter how similar the accident can be.
After a couple of treatments, Laura has been starting to feel her usual self, her energy level has increased and pain is almost gone. She is now getting ready for her wedding this summer.
After a car accident or a fall, it’s recommended to see your Osteopathic Manual Therapist as soon as possible after seeing your Doctor if necessary, in order to deal with the adaptation of the body before the damage becomes too important. We always have emergency appointment space for these cases; make sure to give us a call in these cases. Otherwise, you can always book an appointment with us right here.
Tissues preserve the memory of the traumas through a conscious and unconscious psychological reaction, caused by our self-preservation instinct. This is how a traumatic accident can awaken the memory of another one. Here is what Jennifer McCormick, M.Sc. our Registered Psychologist has to say about it:
The Psychological Point of View: Life After an Automobile Collision
The days, weeks, months, and sometimes years after an accident can be busy, stressful, and frustrating. There might be practical implications of an accident: insurance companies or other people involved; you might need to repair your vehicle or purchase a new one; you might need to take time off work; and, you might find your body aching or in pain so there can be medical appointments to schedule and attend.
Generally, you might find yourself feeling shaky, nervous (maybe concerned about getting back behind the wheel), irritable, numb, depressed, distracted, having trouble sleeping, having flash-backs to the accident, and not functioning as well as you were before the accident. These reactions can be normal and expected after a traumatic experience. However, they can also make day-to-day living much more complicated and if they do not improve, and can have a significant impact on your life.
What can I do to function better after a car accident?
Everyone’s experience is a bit different, but most people benefit from taking care of both their physical and mental health following this type of experience. This can be done by paying attention to basic self-care needs. Exercise, good nutrition and sleep are always helpful but can be even more so during times of increased stress. Having good sources of social support and activities that you find enjoyable and reenergizing can also help. Perhaps you enjoy time outside, movies with friends, yoga, meditation, painting, watching movies, listening to music? Maybe there is something that you used to do for yourself that you have not done in a while? Take time to commit to these activities as part of your recovery from the accident.
But I’m so busy already with all these extra commitments…
Try to think about the time to commit to self-care as an investment rather than another thing on your to-do list. What you will find is that even if the time you have to do the things you enjoy is short (e.g. fifteen minutes in the morning before you start your day, a few minutes during your lunch hour, on the C-train on the ride home, the time between your kids’ bedtime and your bedtime), these types of activities will assist in maintaining the level of energy needed to get through this difficult time.
I’m still struggling… what now?
If you would like more information or would be interested in having a comfortable place to talk about your experience, feel free to book an individual counselling appointment and we’ll explore it together and find what might bring you some relief.
Now that you’ve dealt with the emotion strain, you might still be experiencing problems linked to a vicious cycle with high stress levels and decreased quality of sleep, feeding other physical symptoms. Did you know that Acupuncture has been proven in several studies to help with the pain that can result following car accidents?
The Traditional Chinese Medicine / Acupuncture Point of View: What Happens After Motor Vehicle Accidents
When a trauma occurs, there is a level of qi and blood stagnation that takes place int he body, and TCM uses a combination of acupuncture and herbs to help break up this stagnation and get things moving normally. Acupuncture works by activating the body’s own ability to heal the trauma by increasing circulation of qi and blood in the body and damaged tissues. Because there is no one treatment for any problem in TCM, a regular assessment is still needed to diagnose any underlying excesses or deficiencies that may be present and potentially affecting the results of treatment.
TCM also takes into account the many emotional factors that can exist following an accident including anger, resentment, anxiety, and stress, and tailors the treatment plan to include acupuncture points to help cope with these emotions. Many times people who feel that they are only experiencing physical problems will come to realize the emotional blocks their bodies have established as their treatment progresses.
If your doctor refers to you to acupuncture as part of your adjunct care following a motor vehicle accident then you may be covered by your automobile insurance for your treatments. It is always a good idea to check with your adjuster before booking an appointment to ensure no out of pocket expenses.
We hope this been useful. If you have any questions about traumatism/car accidents, contact us and we’ll get back to you with an answer ASAP.
– Raphaëlle Strub, Chloé Sardin, Jennifer McCormick, Cheryl Lee
- Greenwood, M. Traditional Acupuncture Treatment for Whiplash Syndrome. www.paradoxpublishing.com/assets/files/publications/articles/aja/vol-16-4-whiplash.pdf (2002)
- Fattori, B et al. Acupuncture treatment of whiplash injury. Int Tinnitus J. 2004;10(2):156-60.
- Ohlhauser, L. Alberta’s Insurance Act Regulations: What do provincial changes in motor vehicle insurance mean for Alberta’s primary health care practitioners? A guide for diagnosis, treatment and claims. www.finance.alberta.ca/publications/insurance/info_healthcare_practitioner_guide.pdf