Exercise After An Injury

In my chiropractic practice, I have noticed a substantial difference in how one patient can heal much faster than another, even if they had similar injuries. This most often occurs with soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, and tendons) and joint injuries suffered by people in motor vehicle accidents. For example, if I treat two different people that were of the same sex, similar age and size, both with similar injuries, and even in the same accident, why wouldn’t they heal in relatively the same time period? One of the primary reasons why there may be a difference is due the difference in the level of their physical activity before and after the accident. If one person continues to exercise after an injury and the other person does not, the active person will generally get better faster and to a greater degree.

If you are unlucky enough to be in a motor vehicle accident, generally you will suffer from varying degrees of a whiplash. The joints of your neck and upper back will be sprained and swollen. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments will be stretched and microscopic tears will likely occur. If the accident was serious, fractures should be ruled out by taking X-rays. Then, a good physical examination by your medical doctor or chiropractor should be completed. Once this is done, you should rest for a short period of time until the acute phase of the injuries has settled down slightly (the swelling starts to decrease, the severe muscle spasms begin to subside, and the person is mobile).

As soon as you feel good enough, you should get moving. I realize this goes against the old train of thought that if your neck or back hurts, don’t move it. Years ago, when someone suffered a whiplash, they were told to wear a cervical collar for six weeks to immobilize the neck. More recent research has shown that this may actually prolong the pain and suffering. New studies are showing if you stretch and maintain the strength and mobility of these areas in a controlled manner, the healing will occur faster and to a greater extent. In my office, I am able to improve and maintain the movement in the joints by doing gentle chiropractic manipulation or mobilization. I also use various soft tissue treatments to loosen the muscles.

Once the injured areas are relatively pain free and have a good range of motion, I will encourage the patient to increase the intensity of their exercise. We encourage all of the patients to continue maintaining this higher level of activity and to have the joints of the spine checked every couple weeks until I am confident everything is healed completely. This is because the healing process extends well beyond the time when the pain disappears. Scar tissue that formed in and around the injured areas must be dissolved by the body and replaced with normal tissue. As well, previously injured areas will remain more vulnerable to flare-ups for quite some time.

In closing, if you have a whiplash or other injury, see your medical doctor and chiropractor. Then, once your body is ready, get into an exercise program so that you can help your body heal as fast and as completely as possible.



Understanding Whiplash

It is likely that everyone who reads this article knows someone directly or indirectly that has suffered from whiplash. Years ago, very little was known about this injury. Due to the extensive costs of treating it, much more consideration is being put into it. In fact, The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) has now made it easier for patients to see a chiropractor for any motor vehicle accident related injury. ICBC and the British Columbia Chiropractic Association now have a “pilot project” agreement in place. This agreement allows any ICBC related injury that can be treated with chiropractic care to be done without any direct or user fee cost to the patient. Basically, ICBC pays the chiropractor a flat rate for the treatment of the patient and the patient doesn’t have to pay anything out of pocket! This is very good for the patient, particularly if the user fees that are normally paid by the patient would cause financial hardship. Below, I will highlight some interesting facts about whiplash.


  • -the most common cause of whiplash is a motor vehicle accident, but it can easily occur in situations that do not involve motor vehicles.
  • -the term “whiplash” is typically used in reference to rear-end collisions that cause rapid backward/forward movement of the head. However, a whiplash type injury can occur in many different potential types of accidents such as head-on and side-impact collisions.
  • -of significant importance is also the position of the person in the car. If the person had their seat reclined to have a nap or they were slouched forward to read a map, the severity and location of the neck injury could be quite different. If the person had their neck turned forty-five degrees one way, the injury will generally be much worse.
  • -it also makes a difference if the person could see the impact coming. The muscles of the neck cannot contract fast enough to brace against the forces of being hit unless the person can see the oncoming car ahead of time. If the muscles are relaxed when the impact occurs, the neck will be stretched further and more damage may occur.
  • -if the headrest of the seat is too far from the head, it cannot stop the head from snapping backwards and the injury will be worse. The greater the distance between the head and the headrest, the greater the potential damage to the neck.
  • -the severity of whiplash can vary significantly. In mild cases, the muscles are simply “strained” or pulled. Often, a person will contract their neck muscles in an attempt to resist the forces of the impact. However, these muscles are not nearly strong enough to withstand the forces and they become injured. In more traumatic cases, the muscles are “strained”, the joints are “sprained”, and the nerves are irritated or damaged. This means that not only are the muscles injured, but the joints are also either jammed or stretched beyond their normal ranges of motion. It is also not uncommon for the ligaments and intervertebral disks that hold the bones together to become damaged as well. In very severe cases, fractures of the vertebrae could even occur.
  • -regardless of the severity of the whiplash, the joints will eventually need treatment to restore their normal movement. The sooner this can be safely done, the faster the injured joints will heal. If left untreated, the affected joints will likely develop arthritis earlier than they normally should. I see this in many patients who see me for neck complaints a year or two after an accident. They did nothing and thought it would “just go away”. The injured muscles will also need regular stretching and strengthening in order to heal properly.


If you have experienced a whiplash in the recent past or perhaps up to years earlier, see your chiropractor and take the necessary steps to allow your neck to heal completely and naturally before it is too late.