What Is Whiplash?
Whiplash describes an injury to the neck which affects thousands of individuals every year and often occurs as the result of a road traffic accident. The injury is a result of the sudden extension and flexion of the neck, when the head is thrown violently forwards or backwards in a car crash. Whiplash typically affects the soft tissues of the neck – the muscles, joints and ligaments; depending on the extent of the injuries, painful symptoms can also radiate to other areas of the body causing referred pain in the back, shoulders, arms and head.
What Causes Whiplash?
Common causes include the following:
- Road traffic accidents or collisions
- Contact sports such as boxing, football, martial arts or rugby by a sudden blow to the head
- Horse riding accidents (falls)
- An awkward slip or fall
- A deliberate blow to the head
Who Gets Whiplash?
Anybody subjected to severe hyperflexion or hyperextension of the neck can get whiplash. Individuals with a pre-existing neck or back complaint may be more predisposed and some studies suggest that females may be more susceptible to whiplash.
How Long Does Whiplash Last?
Symptoms of whiplash are not usually felt immediately following impact, in some cases they may take up to 72 hours to appear and can become progressively worse several days after the initial injury. Average recovery time is usually within a few weeks, however in some more severe cases symptoms continue and develop into a chronic pain disorder with further complications taking considerably longer to heal – recovery may be anything from months, to years.
Typical symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck pain
- Tenderness and stiffness of the neck
- Shoulder and arm pain
- Loss of range of motion
Less common symptoms include:
- Numbness and pins and needles
- Extreme fatigue
- Loss of concentration and irritability
A thorough physical examination, detailed history of any injuries, all subsequent symptoms, as well as an assessment of the patient’s range of movement will aid in the diagnosis. Diagnostic imagery such as MRI scans or X-ray in the case of suspected vertebral fracture, may also be useful.
Treatment for Whiplash
A combined treatment programme involving various physiotherapy techniques, pain relief medication and massage therapy is usually prescribed. In cases of chronic whiplash with complications such as cervical disc or nerve damage, physiotherapy may be combined with other forms of treatments.
Physiotherapy and Whiplash
Treatment is often guided by an expert physiotherapist specialising in neck injuries and whiplash, they will use a range of physical techniques to improve range of motion and reduce painful symptoms. Once the individual’s range of motion has begun to improve and pain has subsided sufficiently, strengthening exercises can be performed to improve neck stability.
Physiotherapy for whiplash can help with the following:
- Reducing pain and stiffness
- Improving range of motion and flexibility
- Strengthening neck muscles
- Improving neck and general posture
- Reducing headaches and inflammation
- Education regarding physical health
Over the counter analgesics and NSAIDs, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may provide effective pain relief for short term symptoms. In more severe cases, or in cases of chronic whiplash, stronger prescription medication may be required.
How We Can Help
ProPhysiotherapy can offer a tailored whiplash recovery programme to meet individual needs. All of our physiotherapists are highly qualified and are able to provide a variety of different treatments from physiotherapy treatment, massage therapy, targeted exercise instruction as well as education regarding whiplash and a healthy living.