Monday, September 24, 2012

So You've Been In A Car Accident...Now What?

Updated December 7, 2015

This article aims to guide you through some of the lesser-known steps you're entitled to take following a motor vehicle accident (MVA). If you or someone you know has the misfortune of being involved in an auto accident, you'll have an idea of how to proceed. Please note: I strongly encourage you to get specific information from your auto insurance representative, doctor/chiropractor/osteopath/etc, and to consult a lawyer for advice as this article does not provide any such diagnoses, claims, or guarantees of your entitlements. 

First of all...
Those "other" insurance companies are ruthless. They're waiting only a mere couple of days before beginning to call you, again and again, trying to get you to settle your claim. Let me just say, do not settle!! (Not yet anyway.) In the state of Oregon, most insurance policies will cover massage therapy, chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, even acupuncture--for up to a year from the date of the accident, or until the maximum predetermined dollar amount (personal injury protection, aka PIP) within your individual policy is used up. Your body may respond better to some of these therapies than others. I wouldn't expect you'd need to use all of these therapies, but a combination that works for you.

It doesn't take much of an impact to cause injury from an auto accident--a very "minor" accident can require several months of various therapies/treatment to get your body close to the physical condition it was in prior to the accident. You may feel "fine" after the accident--whiplash takes a couple days to set in. It is very important to be checked out (ER if you feel pain immediately following the accident, urgent care or an appointment with your regular doctor if you feel okay at first, then notice pain a few days later). The insurance companies like to have all these things documented for their records so that if/when you settle your claim, there is record of injuries sustained, treatments received and from which your condition has or has not improved. 

Is a prescription required to get massage?
Yes. You will need to get checked out by a medical professional who will determine the extent of your injury(ies), taking x-rays if needed. This first-contact medical professional may or may not prescribe massage to you. If he/she does, perfect! I'll get to your next step in a minute. If he/she does not, I recommend seeing Dr. Jennifer Pitcairn at Complete Health Chiropractic Center here in Oregon City. You'll make an appointment for a complete evaluation, returning for a subsequent appointment to review the findings, at which point you would get your first adjustment. The evaluation and review appointments are longer, but your on-going appointments to get adjusted are generally quick. Depending on the results of your evaluation, Dr. Jennifer will likely write a prescription for massage. 

You have a prescription for massage--what's next?
Call me. I'll ask you for some details about the accident, how your vehicle was impacted, how long ago the accident took place, what your injuries are,  jotting down some notes as we chat. We'll set up an appointment. As with the first appointment with Dr. Jennifer, this first appointment will be a little longer than your on-going appointments. You can speed this appointment up by filling out your intake forms ahead of time and bringing them in with you (intake form describing your health and massage history, and another form specifically for your insurance billing information). Please bring your prescription or referral, YOUR insurance company name, claim adjuster's name and phone number, your claim number, and date of the accident. 

What to expect at your first massage following an MVA
I'll review my notes from our previous phone conversation and ask you to fill in anything I may have missed. We'll talk about any treatments you've received up until then, your pain management thus far, assess range of motion (ROM) and current pain levels on a 0-10 pain scale where 0 is low, 10 is high. Your pain scales will include various parts of your body, not just ONE number overall, example: 6 at right side of your neck, 4 at left side of your neck, 5 at both shoulders, 3 at midback, 6 at lowback, 4 at right arm/hand, 1 at left arm/hand, as well as pain scales for your ROM, example: 3 at right side of neck when turning head to the left, 6 at right side of neck when turning head to the right, 7 when looking up, 5 when looking down.

Your assessment of your pain levels may be difficult for you at first, but that is something we do before and after each massage in order to gauge your progress and determine what types of treatment are most beneficial to you and will get easier for you to identify in time. Using the numerical pain scale is also much more measurable than saying "It really hurts today" before the massage and then "It feels kind of better now, but still hurts" following a massage. It's fine for you to tell me that, but I will still need you to gauge it on the pain scale--such as "8 before the massage," and "6 after the massage." I send copies of your chart notes to the insurance company when I bill them, and they need to know what you're dealing with.

Also, I am not always accurate when guessing in my mind what your pain scales will be based on your language, as we all experience pain in our own way. There may be times that a client looks like they're in a lot of pain, but say 5 on the pain scale, whereas other clients may not appear to me to be in a lot of pain, but they rate their pain at 7-8. I make notes of your verbal language, body language (wincing in pain, for example) and your numerical pain scales.

Other important information I will ask you and make notes about is how your injuries/pain are affecting your life. Does it hurt to sit/stand/drive for long periods/short periods? How often are you in those situations which exacerbate your symptoms? Does it hurt to brush/wash your hair? How are you sleeping (comfort, restful, limited positions, waking up in tears because of the pain, etc)?

Your positioning on the table will depend on your injuries and comfort. Possible positions include: lying flat on your stomach/back, side-lying using pillows for support of your head, arm, and legs, or lying mostly flat using the body cushion for additional cushioning, support and comfort. This massage will be more gentle and with lighter pressure, even if you've seen me before and have previously enjoyed a more firm pressure. The reason: the body you bring to me after a car accident is not the same body I've worked on before. You may have many more areas of tenderness or greater sensitivity than you are aware of (think about how many sore spots I can find when you come in for regular massages, and how you didn't know those spots were there until I touched them), so this first session following MVA is where I am learning about your body all over again.

About on-going massage sessions...
We'll spend a few minutes before each massage discussing how you've been feeling since your last visit, and you'll give me your "numbers"--your pain scale assessments--before and after each massage. I'll check in with you to see how you felt with pressure from your previous session, what you feel about your treatment (massage or otherwise) is working well, what you feel could be changed to improve your progress, and any changes to how your life has been affected by your injuries or improved since our last session.

You can't wait to be done with this already!
I understand how you feel--you didn't ask to get rear-ended, your life was already busy and you don't have time for this! I know. This is my shpeel (I give you credit for reading this far--give me credit for waiting this long to let it loose!): Your body has been injured. You pay for auto insurance every month so that if you happen to get in an accident and become injured, you (and your car) will be taken care of. You can see the damage on your car. You can see that it doesn't drive correctly anymore. It's obvious to you that it needs repair. Your body, on the other hand, is (hopefully!) not so visibly obvious of the damage it has sustained--yet, through our conversations and documentation, it becomes obvious that your body needs to be repaired as well. Unfortunately, our bodies take much more time to recover than our vehicles. We can't get a new one if it gets totaled, we just have to be even more patient. It's very important to make the time to get treatment early on. Your body will heal better and will have less symptoms later in life the more care you can give it now. Those "minor" accidents, left untreated, rear their ugly heads many years from the original injury, and I have many clients who can attest to this. Put all those many years of paying your insurance premiums to use, and get yourself taken care of. It is hugely inconvenient, I know, but it beats living on pain pills day after day after day. 

The other bad news...
This is probably not the first time you've heard this: Once you've been injured, you're likely to re-injure the same part of your body again. Remember when you were a kid and you sprained the same ankle four times? It became weaker and weaker with each injury, and you still don't trust it. I'll bet you didn't rest it enough to allow it to properly heal either, right? You were a kid, invincible! :) I'll bet you know you're less invincible now than you were then too, right? ;) Getting your injuries taken care of and teaching them how to heal properly now will help decrease the severity of their recurrence later in life. 

A year of treatment later
With any luck, you should be feeling pretty close to your pre-accident self by now. In the beginning of your care, you may have been seeing me twice a week, the chiropractor three times a week, the physical therapist twice a week, and/or the acupuncturist twice a week. Now, those visits are greatly reduced because you are healing, feeling better, and can go that much longer between treatments. You may now be interested in settling your claim directly with the other insurance company, or you may want to work with a lawyer. That part is far beyond my scope, but in any case, I encourage you to consider what your body will need from here on. I recommend generally healthy people to get massage about once a month. As mentioned above, your injured body parts will be more susceptible to re-injury and stress, so you will likely need more frequent care than that, so keep that in mind.

Miscellaneous information
***When I bill for your massage sessions, I bill to your insurance company. The other driver's insurance company will reimburse your insurance company. 

***I have worked successfully with the following insurance companies: Allstate, American Family Insurance, Country Financial, Farmers Insurance, Geico, Liberty Mutual, MetLife, Nationwide, Progressive, SafeCo, State Farm, Travellers, and USAA. 

***If, for any reason, the insurance company decides the injury you've been getting treatment for is a pre-existing condition and requests their payments to me be reimbursed or denies payment for treatments you have already received, you will be responsible to pay me the total amount. In the case of their asking reimbursement, upon your payment to me, I will then reimburse the insurance company. 

I know the information here can be a bit overwhelming, but I've heard experiences of too many people who weren't aware of this when they went through their car accidents, who settled within days of the accident or just didn't know what they were entitled to receive as for treatment, and are now dealing with more pain than necessary. My goal is to not let that happen to you, or your friends/family, or their friends/family. SHARE THIS ARTICLE. Have you been in an accident? SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE in the comments below. 



  1. Yes, you should always look out for the other guy! With both pairs of eyes and ears so to speak. And it’s always best to consult with your lawyer so you don’t get lost in the midst of the claim process. They’ll tell you all you need to know to get a fair deal out of your circumstance such as the cost and the duration of the settlement.

    Raleigh Crowl

  2. Thanks for the comment Raleigh. :) Unfortunately, there are so many victims of MVAs, and I'm learning with my mother-in-law that despite working with a lawyer, she's still not fully taken care of from her MVA where she was side-swiped at a stoplight and will likely face severe financial loss, aside from all the paid she's been enduring.

  3. Oh, that's sad to hear, Rachel. A personal injury lawyer's job is to help you get the most favorable amount for your claim on the accident you’d been into. This is why it’s important to choose a trustworthy and qualified professional for the job. You may start the search by asking your family and friends for referrals.

    Nannie Leick

  4. Yeah, everytime she updates me on what's going on with her case, I'm just baffled, yet still hoping things will work out for her.

  5. Yes, personal injury claims can be a really messy business. You already have your injuries to worry about, and the process of settling your claim adds further problems to your pain. It is really wise to have an expert at your side so you can recover in peace. I hope your mother-in-law can finally get a good settlement, Rachel.

    Cristy Witherspoon

    1. Thanks Cristy. One of my clients highly recommended the lawyer my mother in law is working with, so hopefully things will work out in her favor.

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    1. I appreciate the compliment--team?! Nope, just one of me, despite the high need of a clone these days. ;)

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  10. If the injured spouse does settle, be sure that the settlement agreement reflects whether or not the uninjured spouse intends to settle the loss of consortium claim.
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  11. I got into an accident a few months ago. After trying to deal with insurance adjusters myself, and getting nowhere, I was referred to Russell through mutual friends. They were able to see me the same day and take my case. They immediately took over and dealt with the insurance company and got my car repaired within the same week. They also made sure I was seeing the appropriate doctors for the pain I was feeling. They always answer calls and emails and are extremely accessible (not something you usually find with attorneys.) Russell Fields Change ""

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