The Road to Recovery After a Motor Vehicle Accident

In 2017 alone, there were nearly 155,000 motor vehicle accidents reported in Canada. With estimates stating the average one-way commute for Canadians being around 28 minutes, it’s likely that at some point in your life you or someone you know has been or will be involved in a motor vehicle accident. Even the most cautious drivers may encounter an accident since many factors are out of our control on the road. The after effects of any collision, even so-called minor ones, can be painful and long-lasting. After a few weeks in the shop, your vehicle may be as good as new, but the truth is, the body takes longer to heal. What can be done to recover more quickly and efficiently? For many, the key has been physiotherapy. This article will discuss some common motor vehicle-related injuries and the different types of physiotherapy that can help in the recovery process.

Common Motor Vehicle Injuries

A collision doesn’t need to occur at a high velocity to cause damage. Due to an adrenaline rush after a collision, many have overlooked “minor” issues, only to have intense pain in the days and months that follow. The body is made up of various structures such as bone, muscle, ligaments, tendons, nerves, etc. Any of these structures can be disrupted in a motor vehicle crash. Here is a list of common injuries seen with collisions:


This injury is seen most often in cases when someone is rear ended. When whiplash occurs, the soft tissues of the neck become stretched and extended in a forward and backward motion, sometimes even sideways. The result is usually pain and tenderness to the neck and shoulders, with stiffness and associated headaches.


Most commonly seen in high velocity accidents, fractures can occur in the spine, the legs, the arms, the feet, the hands, etc. Basically, if there’s a bone, it can be broken. The first line of treatment for fractures involves setting the bone and immobilizing it so that it can heal properly. During the immobilization period strength and mobility to the affected area decreases, resulting in decreased muscle mass and stiffness.

Back pain

Made up of 33 bones, the spine is complex, with discs, muscles, ligaments, and nerves all connected and vital in nature. Motor vehicle accidents can cause a range of injuries to the back, including but not limited to vertebral fractures, sprains, strains, and disc herniations, all of which lead to pain. In addition to pain, some experience difficulty performing everyday tasks such as bending over or changing positions. Back pain therefore can lead to other problems related to a decrease in mobility and the fear of re-injuring oneself.

How can Physiotherapy help?

Just as each collision is different in nature and severity, so too are the injuries sustained by the individual. This is why it is vital to seek medical care with a physician following any motor vehicle crash. From there, depending on your injury, your physician can refer you to physiotherapy. What exactly is physiotherapy? It is a degree-based profession in healthcare that assists individuals with injuries, pain, or disabilities through the use of manual therapy, movement, targeted exercise, and professional advice individualized to each person. It is an important adjunct to healing and restoring movement and function to the body. Here is a brief overview of some common therapies/treatments a physiotherapist can provide:

Manual Therapy

This involves manually stretching, manipulating, and mobilizing the spinal structures and their associated joints. This is performed by a trained physiotherapist with the goal of pain relief and improved mobility and function.

Acute Injury Care

For an acute injury, or one that has occurred suddenly, inflammation will be present. Using ice in the first 48 hours can assist to decrease swelling and pain. Rest is vital for healing, and that includes resting from any activity that may exacerbate the affected area. Depending on your injury, your physiotherapist can provide specific advice to decrease swelling and pain in those first few days after an injury.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

This is a common treatment used for acute and chronic pain that involves the use of electric energy transmitted to the nerves. This can be performed in-office or even at home. The device works through electrodes or patches placed on the skin to deliver the electric waveforms to the desired area to provide pain relief, improve circulation, and decrease muscle spasms.


With its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture is used to treat a variety of health conditions and is a great alternative for managing pain. Acupuncture uses sterile needles inserted along specific points in the body to stimulate those areas and produce a healing effect. With the use of acupuncture some have been able to avoid taking pain medications.

Dry Needling

With its roots in Western medicine, dry needling uses sterile needles as well, but unlike acupuncture, dry needling is used specifically on trigger points in myofascial structures. The goal is to stimulate stressed muscles to relax, to increase circulation, and encourage proper nerve function.

Rehab Exercises and Lifestyle Modifications

An unforeseen effect of having endured a motor vehicle accident, is a reduction in physical activity. Some individuals are in pain and thus are afraid to do anything that would exacerbate their injury. Although rest is initially advised, after a certain time period it’s important to engage your body in healthful exercise such as pilates, or stretches specific to your injury. A physiotherapist can also help you to adjust the way you perform daily tasks to avoid any further injury.


It’s clear that physiotherapy plays an integral part in the recovery process when it comes to gaining strength, function, mobility, and decreasing pain after a motor vehicle accident. Our team at Complete Care Physiotherapy is ready to help you get on that road to recovery. We have several locations, each with skilled and experienced staff members that can give you the confidence to move forward beyond your injury.