You’re at a stop sign minding your own business and WHAM! You’re hit by another vehicle, the initial thought, is everyone ok? Second thought, I cannot believe this just happened, third thought, what now.
Let’s take a deeper look into why being hit by a 4000 lb vehicle has such detrimental effects on the human body and the headaches that emerge from this impact.
Scenario 1 – Enough force that the neck did move? Say hello to cervico!
- Cervicogenic headaches: often seen in adults.
- Location: back part of the head we call the occiput, the area that houses the vision center. Remember those cartoons where a skater fell backwards and saw stars..that’s why. It has a direct correlation to vision.
- Frequency: often daily.
- Movement pattern: usually decreased in the upper cervical (head tilt and shoulder checks when driving limited in rotation).
- Pain pattern: referred from neck to head.
- Provoked by: head movement.
- Assessed upon: physical examination.
- Treatable: yes.
- Prognosis: success if dedicated to treatment and home care.
Why is it important to address this pain? Because lack of mobility in the neck can cause areas below to become more rigid and depend on other structures to fulfill the range of motion. After an accident, motion will be limited in the neck and head. Remember, we are not designed to be hit by 2 ton objects, the energy of the force is absorbed into all components present. That includes the vehicle, the person and structures that give us movement.
So, if the impact was not detrimental enough to cause notable damage to the vehicle or cause you as the driver to be shifted upon impact, can there still be injury? Yes. Before the accident even happens, what do you think we do? We prepare our apprehensive minds by tightening every muscle in our being bracing for what’s to come, which leads to:
Scenario 2 – Apprehension caused you tension!
- Muscle tension headaches: can be seen at any age.
- Location: band-like pattern around head (similar to a winter headband).
- Pain pattern: feels like pressure build up and/or muscle tightness.
- Frequency: gets worse throughout the day.
- Provoked by: stress (sometimes from the accident case itself), over fatigue, work, lack of sleep or disrupted sleep, change in diet, drastic change in exercise routine.
- Assessed upon: history and physical examination.
- Treatmeable: yes, by bringing symmetry to muscle length on both sides of body.
- Prognosis: good, compensation of musculature occurs when one side or muscle is too tight, opposite side will overstretch (tensile) to give range needed for daily movement. By addressing specific muscles that are compressed and assertively breaking the compensation cycle complex, success and painfree status can be achieved and maintained.
What could be worse than a headache after an accident? Already having painful headaches made worse with the trauma of the collision.
Scenario 3 – Migraines take their own lane!
Often we will see classic migraine (pre-existing) become common migraine after an accident. What is the difference? Intensity. Most clients with migraines know the prodrome (nausea, aura, vomiting) after a high or low speed impact, migraine sufferers often feel the first 3 weeks have no pattern to their pain. The nausea is random, the visual disturbance is worse, the sensitivity to light/noise is heightened and most pronounced, what worked to manage these classic migraines before impact is now having no relief. Why?
1) Inflammation is not our friend.
2) Stress is friends with inflammation.
3) Physical structures affected with impact outside of hormonal imbalances play a key role in generating the migraine.
- Location: usually one side is worse than the other.
- Frequency: daily to weekly.
- Pain pattern: one side, both sides or often behind eye.
- Movement pattern: don’t feel like moving due to pain or feeling nauseated.
- Pain pattern: throbbing to sharp in head, sometimes all over, worse when sitting/standing.
- Provoked by: bright lights, chocolate, cheese, tension, stress, red wine, menstrual cycle, noise.
- Assessed upon: mode of injury, past migraines, a historical comparison of current symptoms to last migraine before accident and client feedback.
- Prognosis: very positive. Believe it or not, there are cases where the client’s initial migraines actually found relief by undergoing Manual Treatment due to the accident.
Why does it matter to live pain free?
Optimal health allows us to achieve our goals. When pain exists, it is an obstacle from living. I have seen too many beautiful spirits in patients broken and preventable secondary symptoms emerge such as anxiety, depression, weight gain due to pain with lack of mobility and financial duress due to non-working status. If any of these symptoms are you, (neck pain or headaches due to a motor vehicle accident), don’t live like that! Come in with an open mind and compliance towards treatment, we will handle the rest.
Make sure that all of your family members buckle up to reduce severe injury. If you get into a MVC, give us a call at 403.295.8590 to book your MVC Physiotherapy Assessment within 10 days of your collision. Remember to ice your neck for 15 – 20 minutes, 3 – 6 times a day for the first few days to calm down the swelling and bleeding in your muscle tissues. Drive safe and take care!
Dr. Salma Mitha l DC,SRISD,Dip MO,Cert Ergonomics
Blair balances his busy professional life by staying active. He enjoys cycling, swimming, working out, hiking, camping and snowboarding, depending on the season. Blair shares his free time with his wife, son and daughter outside on the weekends. He has learned to enjoy the journey, as life really is too short.
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