I spoke with Gowri Atkinson, Physiotherapist and owner of Active Living Physiotherapy in Coquitlam, British Columbia. She gave her expert opinion on how to recover from car accident injuries based on what she’s learned over the last 30 plus years as a Physiotherapist.

What led you to studying Physiotherapy?

I didn’t know for a long time which career to choose. Finally, I decided to try for physiotherapy. It would be a shorter route than medicine which would have been too long a haul. I like working with people.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

My 30 plus years of experience is my greatest accomplishment. If I’m not sure how to treat a particular problem, I go with my educated guess and gut feeling and it has always paid off. I am always learning about different issues and how to help patients.   

It is important to get the whole picture when assessing a problem. For example, for a patient with knee pain it is important to assess their back, hip ankle and feet. As one problem can cause other problems over a long period of time.   

Who has been your inspiration?

I’ve learned a lot from working beside other physiotherapists. They have influenced me in different aspects of physiotherapy.

What common mistakes do people make with their physiotherapy treatment that interfere with their recovery from a car accident?

Some people are under the impression that physiotherapy is a quick fix without them putting in any effort.

I will give you an example of a lady who had received treatment from me. She had been in a motor vehicle accident.  She told me in the beginning that she did not do exercises. She had 10 sessions of physiotherapy and massage therapy and then quit because she thought she was better. But the pain started bothering her and she came to see me for more treatment. She wasn’t doing much in the way of homework. I tried to inspire her, educate and motivate her about the importance of the home program but I was unsuccessful.  Sometimes you just can’t win. It was very disappointing.

Patients have to be really motivated and be willing to sacrifice their time and put in a reasonable amount of effort on a regular and consistent basis to make a change for their improvement and a healthier life.

How soon do you recommend a person start physiotherapy after sustaining soft tissue injuries from a car accident?

I usually say immediately – sooner rather than later is much more beneficial.   

Some patients see me several months after an accident. They may have had other treatment, for example, massage therapy and/or chiropractic treatment prior to physiotherapy. By this time they have compensated for their problems and learned bad habits. This then becomes more challenging and takes longer to correct the poor postures they have acquired.

It is important to learn how to sleep and sit in the best positions with the least amount of pain and stress to the muscles, ligaments and joints. What can they do at home and at work to decrease their pain and stress levels? The sooner I can get them under my care, the more I can help them.

Guiding them on the right path from the beginning makes a huge difference.

Education from the beginning is a key factor on the road to recovery.

What modalities are particularly beneficial for someone who has sustained soft tissue injuries in a car accident?

Definitely ice and heat – one or the other or both. I like ultrasound. I think it works quite well for a lot of soft tissue problems. I also use the TENS and muscle stimulation machines. Manual therapy is an important tool I use.

What are the benefits of Physiotherapy that cannot be obtained from other therapies?

Every Physiotherapist does things differently. 

I listen to my patients and try to figure out their issues. It is often the little things they tell you that gives me a better insight into their problems. You have to be like a detective and figure out what they are doing wrong or what they can change to decrease their pain and increase their tolerance to a particular activity.

I think listening skills are very important for physiotherapists. I have learned to become a better listener over the years.

As a physiotherapist I strive to achieve long lasting results rather than a quick fix. Also I teach my patients how to manage their problems.

How has physiotherapy changed over the last thirty years?

Physiotherapy as a profession has changed so much. Physiotherapy has grown, diversified and specialized. When I started years ago, we did for example some of the work of kinesiologists, occupational therapists, massage therapists, etc.   

Many physiotherapists acquire specialized skills through further education, for example, vestibular rehabilitation.  I enjoy helping men and women with pelvic floor problems and working with the elderly (gerontology). I also assess and prescribe orthotics when appropriate.   

I had worked with premature babies in the intensive care nursery, with adults and children in the intensive care unit, sports injuries and ICBC patients.

What misconceptions do people have with Physiotherapy?

A lot of people think you need a doctor’s referral for physiotherapy, and that’s certainly not true. For ICBC, after 20 visits you need a doctor’s referral for more treatment to be funded.

Some patients are not quite sure what to expect, some expect a quick fix.

A question I am often asked is, “How long do you think it will take to get better with treatment?”  This is the million dollar question. Improvement is dependent on the patient’s level of motivation, on the extent of their injuries and their pre-injury fitness level. I believe that educating my patients is important as it empowers them to make choices.

What advice would you give to a person who has been injured in a car accident?

Make sure you get out checked out thoroughly by a physiotherapist as soon as possible.

Consult a physiotherapist – ‘your go to person’ – for musculo-skeletal issues.