Physical Therapy for Motor Vehicle Accident Injury


What are we waiting for?

By Olajide Kolawole, PT, PhD

In the states with direct access for physical therapy, why are we not advertising to target people involved in motor vehicle accidents (MVAs)?

Physical therapists are the best among different providers that take care of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular problems. Many motor vehicle accident injuries involve bone fractures, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury. Each of these injuries require specialized care that is within the scope of physical therapists as compared to other providers. According to Silvernail,1 physical therapists in the US military are stationed all over the country and around the world working as primary care providers, managing acute sports injuries, dizziness and balance problems, nerve injuries, wound care, and other disorders well suited for their expertise. This shows that as physical therapists, we can tackle acute injuries within our practice scope.

Recently, I saw a patient with a cervical vertebra fracture from an MVA. She was seen by another provider (not a physical therapist) because manipulation could not be done due to the fracture. She came in with a note from her neurosurgeon stating a goal of improved range of motion of the neck. My conversations with other patients over the years have shown that we need to educate the public about what we do as physical therapists. Many of these patients stated they did not know that going to a physical therapist is an option after a car accident. Most of the radio and billboard advertisements about treatment after a car accident have excluded physical therapy.

The fact is, there are 3 million people in the United States injured every year in car accidents of which 2.5 million are rear-end collisions. Rear-end collision are the most common cause of whiplash. After a car accident involving serious injury, people may need physical therapy to improve their functional status. Physical therapy can help patients increase their mobility, strengthen their body, and improve their overall functional ability. Therefore, physical therapists need to market their skills to the community and explain how physical therapy can be an integral part of full recovery following a car accident.

The first treatment after a car accident often takes place in the emergency room or at an urgent care center. The treatment involves pain relief and immobilization, which may include casting, splinting, or a neck brace. These immediate treatments keep an injury from getting worse.

After the initial visit to the emergency room or urgent care, the next step should be to see a physical therapist as soon as possible to speed recovery. As physical therapists we need to let the community know that we are available to care for them and position ourselves as primary care specialists.

People who don’t have any medical insurance who have been in a car accident may ask if the auto insurance company could be billed directly. By billing the auto insurance company directly, the patient can get the physical therapy without having to wait for the case to resolve. With a medical lien, the patient can get the care needed now in exchange for allowing the physical therapist to collect payment when the case is settled.

I believe educating the public about what we do as physical therapists, particularly following motor vehicle accident, would help to generate more business and serve the community.


1Silvernail J. Primary Care and the Physical Therapist: Lessons from the Military.

Olajide Kolawole

Olajide Kolawole, PT, PhD, is the owner of Kebe Cares Physical Therapy. He can be reached at

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