You might be aware of the many types of injuries that can occur after an automobile accident, as well as the financial impact that such accidents can have. What you might not be aware of is the important roles that physical and occupational therapy play in the recovery process.
Below is an exploration of physical and occupational therapy and how they can affect your chances of recovery.
What are Physical and Occupational Therapy?
Physical and occupational therapy are two different types of therapy designed to help people recover from a debilitating injury, illness, or disorder.
Physical therapy focuses primarily on the musculoskeletal system and is designed to help patients recover from the physical effects of an injury or disorder, such as mobility issues, range of motion, and physical pain.
For example: if you suffer a back injury in an automobile accident, and are paralyzed from the waist down, a physical therapist will help you work your leg muscles to prevent atrophy, and strengthen the muscles in your upper body to help you use your wheel chair or walking devices better.
Occupational therapy focuses primarily on things like motor skills and cognitive functioning to help patients cope with any lasting effects of an injury or disorder, so that they can lead independent lives.
For example: if you suffered a back injury in an automobile accident, and were paralyzed from the waist down, an occupational therapist would train you to perform basic life functions like bathing, dressing yourself, and preparing meals.
Why are Physical and Occupational Therapy Important?
Physical therapy is important because it will help an injury heal properly, thus reducing your chances of chronic pain and other complications down the road.
For example: let’s say you developed whiplash after getting rear-ended in an accident. Whiplash is usually considered a minor injury, but it can actually be very serious because it affects more than just the muscles in the neck. In severe cases, whiplash can affect all of the muscles from the base of your skull to the middle of your back, and even out to your shoulders and into your jaw. Because those damaged muscles have to support the weight and motion of your head, it can often take a long time for whiplash to heal. If left to heal without physical therapy, it could heal incorrectly resulting in in stiffness, joint dysfunction, herniated disks, and chronic pain.
A physical therapist can help strengthen the damaged muscles, so that they can support your head properly, and so that they heal properly. He can also help restore lost range of motion and flexibility, to the neck and shoulders, and prevent muscle imbalances that can lead to further damage.
Occupational therapy is important because it will teach you the correct way to work around any long-term injuries, and prevent you from injuring yourself further.
To use the back injury/paralysis example from above, you could go back to your life without ever seeing an occupational therapist, and you can eventually figure out how to take care of yourself through trial and error; or you can rely on friends and family to do it for you. However, doing it that way could also lead you to make mistakes that could do more harm than good – such as falling while trying to bathe yourself, or sustain serious burns while trying to prepare food.
An occupational therapist can show you the right way to do certain things, and provide you a safe space in which you can practice and get feedback well before you actually have to try it at home. An occupational therapist can also give you information on the adjustments you would need to make at home to ease your transition, and even train friends and family members on the ways they can help you.
Obstacles to Proper Therapy
One of the biggest obstacles to proper therapy is that it can be costly and insurance companies don’t always want to cover the cost. In the case of a serious injury, like the back injury illustrated above, insurance companies might be more willing to pay than for a less-serious injury like whiplash. However, even when insurance does pay, it might not cover all the sessions you need to get the most benefit.
Some people have to secure the services of an insurance lawyer or a car accident lawyer to properly litigate the case and get the insurance companies to cover the full cost.
Another obstacle is patient compliance. Even when insurance will cover the cost, patients might feel that therapy is a waste of time, or they could have trouble getting time off work or lack the transportation they need to get to their sessions. Also, both physical and occupational therapy can sometimes be frustrating and painful, especially in the early stages, which can turn patients off.
However, despite the obstacles, both physical and occupational therapy can be valuable tools in recovering from the effects of an automobile accident.
Not all patients will need both types of therapy. Ultimately, it depends on the severity and type of injury they sustain during the accident.