Whiplash, neck pain, headaches, back pain, joint pain and stiffness are some of the more common injuries from car accidents and accidents between bikes or pedestrians and automobiles. In my 16 years of practice I’ve noticed three things that have kept people from getting timely care for their auto accident injuries (or bike/pedestrian injuries caused by a car):
1)Fear of medical expense. Many people do not know that in the state of Oregon everyone has Personal Injury Protection (PIP) as part of their auto insurance. This provides a minimum of one year and $15,000 of medical coverage (regardless if one is at fault or not). PIP will cover conventional medical evaluation and treatment as well as acupuncture, chiropractic and naturopathic medicine. Office visits, treatments and medications/supplements are typically covered under one’s PIP.
2)Many people never think to consider acupuncture or naturopathic medicine as viable options to reduce pain and speed discovery despite the growing body of evidence to support their use. The most rigorous and detailed analysis to date of acupuncture for pain, has found strong scientific support, ‘robust’ and ‘firm’ evidence, for its use in pain reduction. Similarly certain herbs and supplements have been studied for recovery from head trauma, whiplash, joint and back pain and stiffness.
3)Often people will wait too long to seek care. Generally speaking, the sooner one assembles a team of practitioners to begin to address their symptoms, the better odds of a quicker and more complete recovery.
Just the other day I was driving and witnessed an SUV make a turn right into a biker who tumbled over her handlebars. Fortunately, the driver of the car pulled over to make sure the biker was okay and several other people did similarly. Despite all of this responsible attention the injured biker was receiving I pulled over as well. Why? Because right after an accident people sometimes minimize their symptoms and leave without exchanging information with the person that hit them. When a person is in shock or still feeling the rush of adrenalin from the accident, they cannot accurately assess the pain they will be under. It is quite common not to feel the full brunt of the situation until several hours after the event. In this case, my fear was justified. The woman’s bike was mangled, but she was able to walk and was saying “I’m sure I’m fine” over and over again. She seemed embarrassed by the attention, and was about to leave. I explained to her that she might not know if she is fine until later that day, that she should exchange insurance info with the driver and explained to her what PIP was, so she wouldn’t hesitate to seek medical care. The driver and her proceeded to exchange information and the biker seemed relieved to have the permission to not be okay. “You know,” she said as I was leaving. “My elbow really does hurt.” If you had looked at her, with all the gravel embedded in her arm, you would’ve thought “of course it does” but endorphins will keep her from assessing the painfulness of her injuries until later.
I didn’t speak to this woman about acupuncture or naturopathic medicine, or reveal that I was a physician myself. But I do believe acupuncture in particular is a great and effective tool, sometimes the central one, for car accident injury recovery. Naturopathic care (dietary modification to reduce inflammation, herbs and supplements for pain, stiffness, spasm etc.) is a nice secondary complement to it. Of course this shouldn’t replace proper evaluation and imaging by your physician but particularly if one’s injuries are soft tissue in origin, getting in for regular acupuncture sessions, the sooner the better, is often one of my first-line recommendations and sometimes is the most important intervention one undertakes.