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Massage and Car Accidents
by Todd Pennington LMT
You have had a car accident! The car and all it’s contents, including humans, are suddenly moving differently than before. As your head starts to move, sensors in the neck scream to the spinal cord - PROBLEM! The spine sends an immediate signal to the muscles in the area to tighten NOW and a signal to the brain to hold them tight. This process is repeated throughout the body as needed. Even if air bags go off, you can still be injured in the accident, and you may need time and help to fully recover.

Once the accident happens, it is wise to write down all the details that you can. As fast as possible after the event, get medical attention, even it you think it is not needed. In some cases you may feel ok, yet have problems that you do not know about. Keep a journal for several weeks of how you feel, because some people have found the pain getting worse for several days after a major trauma, due to swelling and other effects of the accident.

Even work from competent caregivers can feel like it is making things worse. Do not let this keep you from getting help; in many cases, doing nothing is the least desirable option. The first concern is for gross trauma, for which medical attention is needed. For spinal dislocation, chiropractic adjustments can help, and for soft tissue strains, massage.

The body's greatest need is for the head to remain firmly attached to the neck and torso. The body will accept long-term problems to have a chance to keep the head attached. The problem is, rapid movement of the neck can cause fibers to tear or rip. Some tears can be big enough to let you know about them instantly, others are very small. The result is muscle spasm, which many doctors do not know how to relax, so they give drugs, want to cut, or say "live with the pain".

After you leave the hospital, the problem is getting back to normal. Many people think that when the doctor says it is ok to leave the hospital they are completely healed. If nothing else is done, it is often easy to lose some of your ability to move and you may have long term pain. Even if you have been told that nothing else can be done, massage may still help. This would be the time to get a prescription for massage. Long term relief is even more likely if practitioner knows how to relax the muscles that are forcing the bones out of normal position.

Aftercare involves getting the spine and soft tissue to let you live life as you did before the accident. Chiropractic care moves the bones back into place, and is the most common place to get a prescription for massage work. To have massage paid for by insurance, you must have the prescription before you go to the massage therapist.

The body frequently holds the muscles in spasm, long after the need for protection is finished. The muscles can stay tight for even decades after the accident. This is especially true for muscles around the spine and ribs. The head frequently was moved enough for the spine to be whip lashed. Just getting the bones adjusted may not release the muscles on the front of the neck. This is delicate work and should only be done by someone who understands how to get the small fibers to release. Also, the spine frequently tightens enough to compress disks. To release a spinal disk, the muscles pulling on the structure from other areas need to be relaxed as well as the ones around the disk.

Frequently people and caregivers think that the problem is at the point of pain. This is only partly true. In the case of tight muscle pulling bones out of place and/or pinching nerves and blood vessels, a small amount of work on a controlling area can produce a major change in how your body works. When certain areas that control the neck get released, the head, neck and shoulders work differently. When the control regions for the pelvis release, the low back pain frequently leaves.

It is important not to force the structure. This can leave a person sore for days. Knowledge of the muscles that control bone and muscles at a distance enables the therapist to coax the system into relaxation and allow the bones to move back to normal positions. The goal of Control Muscle Release Therapy is to relax the key regions of the body and release the structure easily and gently. In many cases even long term (chronic) conditions can be improved. Take care of your body now - it will help to take care of you later.

Todd Pennington, LMT is a licensed massage therapist in SW Portland. Visit his website for additional articles on this and other topics, or phone (503) 244-4427 for more information