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Trauma Survivors – Road Traffic Accidents

I love driving and especially love driving in countries I have visited around the world.  I have made a couple of long trips, driving to Greece in 2008 in one of my beloved vans and more recently driven to Spain (2017). I know I am fortunate to have avoided a car crash (perhaps a couple of close calls along the way), however, I have seen many people in clinic after they have had a car crash.  Some of them, multiple crashes.

A car crash (or RTA – road traffic accident) are not pleasant and leave their mark, from the obvious to the less obvious.  Often, if people appear to have ‘escaped without a scratch’ they come to clinic 2 years to the day after an accident, reporting stiff neck and shoulders.  This 2 year pattern has been a consistent observation during my practice over the last 20 years.  Those that seek early intervention with massage or craniosacral release both the physical and emotional impact of the accident and go on to be symptom free.

The forces at play when we are in a car crash are complex.  In mechanics, an impact is a high force or shock applied over a short time period when two or more objects collide. Such a force or acceleration usually has a greater effect than a lower force applied over a proportionally longer period. Forces can be reduced with a seat belt, which stretches when the car stops moving, so that the person wearing the belt doesn’t stop immediately. Air bags have the same effect – they slow down the change in momentum, and so reduce the forces. In a crash the person’s head hits the air bag instead of the windscreen.

I have seen and treated the results of the car crash and indeed injuries sustained from the seat belt and air bags.

The most common injuries can include: shock, broken bones, head trauma, whiplash and bruising.

Head trauma 

Symptoms of a severe head injury can include:

  • unconsciousness – where a person has collapsed and is unresponsive, even for a brief period of time
  • concussion– a sudden but short-lived loss of mental function that occurs after a blow or other injury to the head; a person with concussion may have a glazed look or appear confused, but won’t necessarily be unconscious
  • fits or seizures
  • difficulty speaking or staying awake
  • problems with the senses – such as hearing loss or double vision
  • repeated episodes of vomiting
  • blood or clear fluid coming from the ears or nose
  • memory loss
  • sudden swelling or bruising around both eyes or behind the ear
  • difficulty with walking or co-ordination

Severe head injuries always require hospital treatment. This may involve:

  • observing the condition for any changes
  • running tests to check for further damage
  • treating any other injuries

Most people are able to go home within 48 hours. However, a small number of those admitted to hospital require skull or brain surgery. It’s often a good idea to have someone stay with a person involved in an RTA for a further 48 hours to monitor them and call for medical help if required.


Whiplash injury is a type of neck injury caused by sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways. It occurs when the soft tissues in the neck become stretched and damaged (sprained). Whiplash will often get better within a few weeks or months, but for some people it can last longer ( the 2 year mark I mentioned earlier) and severely limit their activities.

Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • neck pain and tenderness
  • neck stiffness and difficulty moving your head
  • headaches
  • muscle spasms
  • pain in the shoulders and arms

Less common symptoms include pins and needles in your arms and hands, dizziness, tiredness, memory loss, poor concentration and irritability. It can take several hours for the symptoms to develop after you injure your neck. The symptoms are often worse the day after the injury, and may continue to get worse for several days.

Treatments for whiplash include, keeping your neck mobile and continuing with your normal activities, a neck collar is not recommended.

When is the best time to come and see me?  That will depend on your individual circumstance and what injuries you have sustained, your age, general health, other comorbidities and how you generally feel.

Head trauma  will need at least 96 hours clear to rule out a bleed to the brain.  Cognitive fuzziness, sensations around the eye sockets from airbag impact, loss of appetite, insomnia are not contraindications to treatment.

Broken bones may need further investigation, plastering or surgery.  I do not massage the area of a broken bone until 6 weeks post break or op.  That’s not to say if you have a broken arm I can’t treat you, it just means we perhaps do some reflexology.

Whiplash will need that 96 hour window to allow bruising to come out and acute inflammation to settle.  Then we can being some soft tissues massage, with anti inflammatory essential oils to prevent that visit to me in 2 years time.

You may just be feeling unwell or unsettled and you should give time and space to this to rest and recover.  Sleep is good medicine, as are soups, juices and water and if you can, take a spoonful of turmeric/dash of black pepper mixed with water, once a day first thing in the morning.  If you have homeopathic Ignatia tablets take those in the first few days following the accident, then move to Arnica tablets.  You may find a hot epsom salt bath useful, this will draw out inflammation and ease and soothe tense muscles.

When you feel ready, come and see me.  It maybe that we find massage useful or craniosacral bodywork or reflexology. I can blend an essential oil prescription for your specific needs and maybe an aromastick to take home and inhale if moments of panic/anxiety come upon you.

 By coming for a therapeutic treatment (or indeed a yin yoga/meditation class) we can begin to ease inflammation and thus pain, ensure the soft tissues remain fluid and offering the association joint full range of moment (ie; neck) and also prevent the emotional trauma from remaining in the system, creating areas of inertia/being stuck that go on to create fear, anxiety or pain in the future.

If you are at all unsure, please feel free to ring me and we can chat through your particular circumstance in more detail prior to booking your appointment.