When the impact of a car accident hits, we absorb it like a punching bag.
Our muscles clench as the tremendous energy of the crash is transferred into our bodies. The trauma of that force becomes lodged in the memory of our muscles as well as our nervous system, leaving a record that can last a lifetime if not fully healed.
If you’re still coping with the aftermath of an accident months or even years later—or if someone you love is—you’re not alone. Across the country, more than three million people are injured every year in motor vehicle collisions (MVCs). Many occur during inclement weather; three in four accidents happen on wet pavement, and nearly half take place during rainfall. The winter months are a common time for seeking car accident treatment.
Portland is full of people struggling to recover from car accident injuries, which are complex and can take a long time to heal. Seven in 10 people who visit the emergency room for MVC injuries continue to report pain six weeks after their accident, while a quarter of whiplash sufferers end up with chronic pain lasting six months or more. Why? Often it’s because they don’t receive immediate treatment that addresses the whole patient.
“The good news is that your body is capable of healing anything,” says wellness consultant Jon Burras. “The bad news is that most people do the wrong things in order to heal and will suffer long-term damage for many years to come.”
When car accident injuries linger for months or even years, the failure to heal can often be traced back to one of two problems: not seeking treatment early enough, and not treating the whole injury (including the emotional aspects).
Natural medicine provides the solution many people need to heal from their MVC injuries. Naturopathic physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists take a multi-faceted approach to healing, combining a variety of techniques and practitioners to support the body’s natural healing ability and achieve the best possible results. At Heart Spring Health, we use a collaborative care model that treats the whole person—not just the injury.
Most Common MVC Injuries
During a collision, it is often the body’s soft tissues—the muscles, ligament and tendons—that absorb most of the impact. The resulting damage to these tissues remains the most common type of MVC injury.
There are many different types of soft tissue injuries. Whiplash, or damage to the neck ligaments from the sudden forward and backward motion, is the most well known. Motor vehicle crashes cause more than 3 million whiplash injuries each year, which isn’t surprising considering it takes only a 2.5 mile-per-hour change in speed to cause one. Mid- and lower back muscle sprains are another common source of chronic pain following an MVC.
Other widespread MVC injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries (concussion, for example)
- Spinal injuries (such as a herniated disc)
- Chest injuries
- Leg and knee injuries
- Broken bones
Normally, one might expect a sprain to heal within a matter of weeks. So why do car accident injuries typically take much longer? One reason is that people often walk away from car accidents believing they weren’t seriously injured. It can take up to three days for whiplash or other soft tissue injuries to become apparent. By then, the trauma has set in and a critical window for minimizing the injury has passed.
That’s why it’s critical to seek care immediately after a motor vehicle collision, even if you don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with you. At Heart Spring Health’s Portland naturopathic clinic, we can make arrangements to see you on the same day as your accident. Our practitioners are equipped to evaluate you and begin treatment right away to help decrease your recovery time.
How Naturopathic Physicians Treat Acute Injury
A naturopathic physician is especially adept at healing complex impact injuries such as soft tissue damage. That’s because we treat the whole patient—not just the physical body, but the mental and emotional bodies too.
Many patients suffer needlessly because, despite receiving treatment for their physical injuries, the emotional impact of the collision remains unaddressed. Car accident injuries have both physical and emotional layers. The whole person must be treated for true healing to occur.
Just as the physical force of the impact leaves its imprint on your body’s soft tissues, the emotional force leaves an imprint on your psyche. For example, people who have been in a car accident often experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which leaves the body locked in a permanent or recurring state of fear and anxiety.
“These emotions do not just go away by themselves,” Burras says. Yet this emotional damage is “one of the most neglected aspects of healing from any trauma, including a car accident.”
Natural medicine uses a variety of different healing modalities to treat every layer of the injury so you can achieve full healing from your traumatic experience. At Heart Spring Health, our natural health practitioners will create a customized healing plan which, depending on your needs, may include:
Immune system support. Your body’s immune system has an incredible capacity to heal from a motor vehicle accident—but it needs the right fuel. You can support your own healing process by eating foods rich in the nutrients that power your immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids help balance inflammation, for example, while vitamin C is crucial for repairing connective tissue. Your natural health clinic practitioners may recommend dietary changes and nutritional supplements that keep your immune system functioning effectively.
Manual therapy. When the energy of a car collision isn’t released from the body, the impact can settle in and cause long-term damage. Manual therapies such as massage and chiropractic care help physically work the trauma out of your tissues to prevent this from happening. Chiropractic treatment offers drug-free pain relief, alleviating up to 80 percent of discomfort from an MVC injury, while a Portland massage therapist can help ease muscular pain and speed up the healing process by improving circulation.
Acupuncture. This ancient form of Chinese natural medicine offers another avenue for relieving pain without taking prescription medications. But it does much more than that. It boosts circulation and stimulates the body’s immune response to the injury. It also induces a state of relaxation and helps calm feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. Visits to an acupuncturist often play a key role in car accident recovery.
Exercise. Moving your body is another important part of releasing the trauma from a motor vehicle collision. In the initial stages of healing, patients are often advised not to move—but staying motionless for too long allows the memory pattern to become locked in place. As early as possible in your healing journey, our Portland naturopathic practitioners will help you get moving again with exercises designed to retrain your muscles and build your strength back up.
Collaborative Care for Car Accident Injuries
Because so many different practitioners are involved in treating an MVC injury, patients achieve the best results from a collaborative care model in which the holistic health care provider collaborates with other healthcare providers to support the healing process. The team at Heart Spring Health works together with all of your providers—from acupuncturists and massage therapists to chiropractors and mental health professionals—to treat the whole person rather than just the symptoms.
Collaborative care brings together the expertise of a variety of specialists to help the mind, body and spirit and achieve deeper healing. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, collaborative care is defined by three key characteristics:
- Collaboration between multiple providers
- A holistic approach that focuses on the whole person (and family)
- Attention to mental health as part of primary care
If you’ve sustained an MVC injury, it’s important to know that collaborative natural medicine isn’t just for patients with deep pockets. According to Oregon law, you’re entitled to alternative health care paid for by your car insurance policy, regardless of who was at fault. Most personal injury protection (PIP) insurance covers medical expenses up to $15,000 for a year after your accident.
Post-accident care is most effective when it treats all aspects of your health.
An integrative clinic can alleviate the confusion of PIP payments by offering multiple alternative healing professionals in one location.
When you visit multiple healthcare providers for your MVC injury, PIP payments are typically split between different clinics, creating a great deal of paperwork and unnecessary stress during your healing process. An integrative clinic, on the other hand, can relieve the stress by offering multiple alternative healing practitioners in one location. At Heart Spring Health, our providers can diagnose your injury in-house and schedule necessary treatments on the same day.
When you’re struggling with a car accident injury, the sooner you begin treatment the better. Visit Heart Spring Health to start your healing journey today.