You have just been in a car accident. You are sore, tight or stiff. You might be stressed, worried or tense. Maybe you are feeling dizzy or tired, having trouble seeing clearly or thinking clearly. You are struggling to relax your body or your mind.   These problems are affecting your sleep, your work performance, your daily routine at home, your social and family life.

You need to take care of yourself, and you need proper treatment. More often than not, these problems will get better on their own within the first month or so. In some cases, they can take longer. But up to 30% of people in car accidents still have problems one year later. Research has shown that what you do now can do a lot to prevent problems later.

We focus on chronic pain and trauma. This has made us experts on what causes problems after car accidents. Some of this comes from reading research and talking with colleagues at conferences. A lot of it comes from our own experience, from the unique perspective of integrative medicine.


Car accidents involve three kinds of stress. The first, and most obvious is the physical stress on the body. This can obviously happen because your body strikes a part of the vehicle. It can also happen because of a sudden change of speed that stretches or tears tendons and ligaments in the neck, jaw and other joints. Most people with pain after a whiplash injury have no visible damage on X-rays, MRI scans or nerve conduction tests. Their pain is blamed on these so-called soft tissue injuries.

We now know that the brain can also be torn in a whiplash injury. This is because your head weighs 10-15 pounds, and your brain is attached to it. The sudden movement of your head can shear, stretch and tear the long nerves fibers that connect your brain to your spinal cord. This is called diffuse axonal injury, the key lesion seen in traumatic brain injury. It can lead to dizziness, ringing ears, blurred vision, clumsiness, memory, focus, sleep, mood and other brain problems. And it is not seen on an MRI.

The third kind of stress is emotional. A car accident is always a surprise. It can be scary or frightening. It often involves conflict with another person, which can also trigger fear and anger. This is made worse if children are involved, if it affects your finances or your other life plans. This emotional trauma is a major source of anxiety and stress.

Even though it is felt in the body, pain affects the brain. Torn nerve fibers creating concussion symptoms obviously involve the brain. Emotional trauma and stress may be considered ‘psychological’, but the absolutely affect the brain. This triple-threat explains why for many people a car accident can be a life-changing event.

Another important thing to remember is that some people are more resilient to trauma than others. Studies show that previous injuries, other medical problems, a neurotic personality, fear of movement, legal claims, lack of social support, and other factors affect healing.


Remember that the odds are in your favor. You will probably recover. But to improve your odds of total healing, it is important to take care of your body. Our advice is based on a combination of the published scientific research, the principles of integrative medicine and our experience treating chronic pain. You should:

  • Move as normally as possible. Avoid intense exercise, but be active. Walk, bend, twist and move around. Let pain be your guide, but not your prison. Fear of movement makes pain worse.
  • Avoid negative thoughts. Negative thinking is called catastrophizing, and it interferes with healing. Distract yourself with soft music, walking in nature, or other relaxing activities.
  • A 10-20 minute session can be powerful. Listen to a guided relaxation if you have never done this. Bedtime is a good time for this.
  • Drink water. Many people are dehydrated, and this affects healing. The ideal drink is hot water with honey and lemon. Try a relaxing tea like chamomile or lemon balm.
  • Take Epsom salt baths. Epsom salts contain magnesium, which relaxes muscles and nerves. Buy it at the drugstore. Add two cups to bath water that is as warm as tolerable. Spend 20 minutes in the bath before bed. It will also help you sleep.
  • Don’t overuse your brain. You need to rest your mind after a traumatic brain injury. Avoid too much reading, thinking or focused work. Definitely avoid stressful people. If you must watch TV, make it comedy.
  • Get treatment. A brief period of massage, physiotherapy or chiropractic treatment can help speed up your recovery.
  • Use pain killers. Too many people try to ‘tough it out’, and don’t want to be ‘wimps’. Many people are very worried about the risks of pain killers, but as chronic pain specialists we are much more worried about untreated pain. The reason is simple. If you are in constant pain, you cannot heal. Talk to your doctor.
  • See your doctor regularly. We advise family physicians to see patients every two weeks after a car accident. This is important for checking progress, prescribing treatment, giving advice and spotting problems early.

If you are suffering after a car accident, don’t worry. You will probably get better. But it is important to take care of yourself to be sure you beat the odds. We have seen many lives ruined by chronic pain. Don’t let yours be one of them.

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