Massage Therapy for Hyperextension Injuries
Treating car accidents, work accidents, and athletic injuries with massage therapy
Hyperextension injuries are the result of a sudden and unexpected impact on the body, such an athletic injury, work-related injury, or motor vehicle accident. These impacts cause muscles to quickly contract, acting as a brace for the joints of the body. Your nervous system created this ingenious reaction to prevent extensive injury. However, while this response may prevent dislocation and possibly death, it does not come without its price. As the muscles contract, the momentum from the impact can cause strain and sprain (microtears in the tissues) to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around joints. The most commonly know form of a hyperextension injury is whiplash, a term frequently heard by massage therapists when a patient is discussing the repercussions of a car accident. But did you know that hyperextension injuries can affect other joints of the body?
Hyperextension injuries can affect the entire spine. In a car accident, the angle of the colliding vehicles and the driver or passenger’s body position in the vehicle can result in the muscles lining the spine experiencing the same kinds of sprain and strain as those in the neck. And in car accidents, work accidents, and sports accidents, joints in the shoulders, arms, pelvis, hips, knees, and ankles can be hyperextended. Hyperextension injuries can occur at the points of initial impact as well as where the body lands on the ground or strikes the interior of a vehicle after the impact has occurred, thus creating widespread discomfort and pain.
Massage therapy is a highly effective form of treatment for these types of injuries. A massage therapist can help to relax the muscles of an injured site so that they are not pulling as hard on the tender microtears in tendons and ligaments surrounding the joints. Massage also increases circulation to the injury, so that the vital nutrients in the bloodstream can better reach the affected site and improve the rate of healing. As the result of an impact, such as a slip-and-fall, being rear-ended, or colliding into a player on the other team, it is also very common for fascia (the web-like tissues that surround and connect the body’s muscles) to develop adhesions and scarring that can limit mobility. Myofascial release techniques performed by a massage therapist can help to break up these adhesions and increase range of motion.
Strong impacts from car accidents, work accidents, and sports injuries also have a profound effect on our emotional systems. The soothing qualities of massage can help a patient to relax and release the emotional trauma surrounding an accident, which in turn helps the body to relax physically. Relaxation is a very important process in healing from an injury. While receiving massage, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated, putting your body into what is know as “rest and digest mode.” During this time, blood pressure and heart rate lower, and the internal systems of our bodies, such as our endocrine system and digestive system, get activated. These processes allow the body to better perform its amazing natural self-healing abilities. Even better, the effects of this process linger long after the massage session has ended.
Whiplash and other hyperextension issues can only be diagnosed by a physician and should be addressed as soon as symptoms arise. It can sometimes take a few days to notice these symptoms, however. While the tendency may be to try and “wait out” the pain to see if it resolves on its own, this could result in further complications and reduced mobility. If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident, an accident at work, or sports accident, seek medical attention immediately.
Generally, massage therapy is contraindicated within the first few days of the injury, but if there are no broken bones or torn ligaments, a physician may recommend a gentle massage treatment for promoting relaxation and increasing circulation around affected areas. The duration of the treatment and the frequency of massage required is unique to the individual and the injury. Patients should have their healing progress monitored by checking in regularly with a physician. The monitoring of massage treatments for an injury is required when receiving massage through health insurance, motor vehicle insurance, or a worker’s compensation claim.
The physical and emotional pain of an injury are unpleasant, stressful, and limiting. However, with every injury comes an opportunity to heal. An opportunity to take time to devote to relaxation, self-care, and self-discovery. It is my hope that what you have just read will inspire you to seek massage therapy on your path toward recovery and wellness.
Anna Horvitz, LMT