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Treating Motor Vehicle Accidents with Physical Therapy

Treating Motor Vehicle Accidents with Physical Therapy

It is estimated that worldwide 20 to 50 million people suffer injuries from motor vehicle accidents each year. In one statistic ranking the top 200 largest American cities for road safety, Boston was nearly at the bottom of the list, ranking in at 199. Thus, the likelihood of being in a motor vehicle accident at some point in your life is high. The resulting injuries can be debilitating with long-term effects such as loss of productivity at work and at home. While such accidents and injuries unfortunately cannot be undone, there are ways to strengthen and help heal various motor vehicle related injuries through the use of consistent physical therapy.

Common Types of Injuries

Motor vehicle accidents can cause a range of injuries to the body. This article will discuss commonly seen injuries that are treated with physical therapy.


Most commonly seen from being rear-ended, whiplash involves the soft tissues of the neck being forcibly exerted in forward, backward, or sideways motions. Symptoms often include:

  • Neck/arm/shoulder pain
  • Neck tenderness
  • Neck stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty moving head
  • Muscle spasms

Back pain

Many types of back injuries are seen in motor vehicle accidents. These injuries may involve trauma to muscles, ligaments, and discs (gel-like structure between the vertebrae), and even fractures to the spine. Physical therapy is an important adjunct to any type of back injury. Common back injury symptoms include:

  • Pain/tenderness to back
  • Difficulty bending/twisting
  • Stiffness
  • Burning pain to lower back or leg

Bone Fractures

Broken bones are common in high impact motor vehicle accidents. After emergent medical care is provided, physical therapy is soon to follow to help restore strength and mobility.

Physical Therapy, the Sooner the Better!

Life is not stagnant and neither should our bodies be. While most of us would like to rest in bed after something traumatic like a motor vehicle accident, don’t delay in seeking physical therapy. The longer your injuries go untreated, the more difficult it can be for your body to return to normal function. Here are some helpful physical therapy treatments and exercises:

  • Ice the affected area for the first few days
    • Ice can help alleviate pain and relax tense muscles

  • Manual therapy/Spinal mobilization
    • This involves the passive and skilled movement applied to your body by trained therapists to help alleviate pain.

  • Therapeutic Ultrasound
    • This technique uses a heated ultrasound probe to affected areas to increase blood flow; thus speeding up healing rates and decreasing inflammation and scar tissue.

  • Stretching exercises to increase mobility:

    • Neck exercises:

      • In a sitting position drop your left ear to your left shoulder and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the right side.
      • Start by looking straight ahead. Turn your head to look over your left shoulder. Return to looking straight ahead. Then turn your head to look over your right shoulder.
      • Start by looking straight ahead. Then look straight up as if you are trying to point your chin to the ceiling. Then look down as if you are trying to touch your chin to your chest.
      • In a sitting position shrug your shoulders up to your ears and rotate them back to a resting position
      • Without moving your head or neck, place your left hand on the left side of your head. Place pressure on your head and allow your head and neck to resist the pressure without actually moving. Repeat on the right side.
      • Place your hand on your forehead and place pressure on the head. Allow your head and neck to resist the pressure from your hand without actually moving. Repeat this action placing your hand on the back of your head.
      • Repeat these neck exercises multiple times throughout the day.

    • Back exercises:

      • Knee to Chest
        • Lie flat on the floor in a relaxed position. Bend both knees upwards and place your feet on the floor. Bring your right knee toward your chest and hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Slowly lower your knee and place your foot on the floor. Repeat with the opposite leg. Do 5 sets
      • Pelvic Tilt
        • Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. You may place a small pillow under your head for neck support. Tighten your glutes and contract your abdominal muscles to tilt your pelvis so that it closes the gap between your lower back and the floor. Slowly raise your buttocks and lower back up off the floor and hold for 10-30 seconds. Relax to starting position. Repeat 5 times
      • Extension Lying Prone
        • Lie face down on the floor in a relaxed position. Slowly bring yourself up on your elbows. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds. Slowly return to laying flat on the floor. Repeat 5 times.


If you have sustained a motor vehicle injury recently or perhaps even in the past, physical therapy is an important part of your recovery. This brief discussion has only outlined a few of the benefits physical therapy can provide, such as improved healing time and increased mobility. We encourage you to contact us at Blue Hills Sports and Spine Rehabilitation. Our well-trained and experienced team is ready to provide a thorough plan specific to you and your injury to help you get back to a pain-free and active life.