Article by A. Clarke, J. Ferguson
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury which results from sudden acceleration-deceleration forces on the neck. The term encompasses a variety issues affecting
muscles, joints, bones, ligaments, discs and nerves.
What Causes Whiplash?
Whiplash generally results from a traumatic event involving sudden acceleration-deceleration forces. The most common cause for whiplash is a motor vehicle
accident. Other potential causes may include roller-coasters, bungy jumping or a sports-related collision.
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
Symptoms and severity of whiplash can vary significantly between people. The most commonly reported symptom is neck pain or stiffness. This can occur anywhere
from immediately after the injury to several days later.
Symptoms may include:
How is Whiplash Diagnosed?
Whiplash is a clinical diagnosis based of your history of injury and clinical testing. Radiological tests may be useful to identify injury to specific
structures such as a fractured vertebra, disc injury, muscles or ligaments.
Due to to traumatic nature of a whiplash injury; there is a risk of more urgent or sinister injuries which need to be ruled out before undergoing treatment.
Your physiotherapist and GP are trained to detect anything abnormal which warrants further investigation, however please notify a health professional
if you have (or develop) any of the following:
- Bilateral pins and needles
- Gait disturbances
- Progressively worsening weakness or sensation problems
- Pins and needles or numbness in the face
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing
- Drop attacks/fainting
- Bladder or bowel problems
Research shows the most effective way to treat your injury is with a combination of treatment options which are tailored to your individual dysfunctions.
Research evidence supports various treatment approaches. Your best treatment direction should be guided by an expert in the rehabilitation such as
a musculoskeletal physiotherapist who specialises in neck injuries or whiplash.
Potential treatment methods for whiplash include:
- Continuing your normal daily regime: Acting Normal!
- Active treatment guided by your physiotherapist.
- Exercise to encourage flexibility, strength and good posture.
- Fine neck muscle and proprioception retraining programs guided by a physiotherapist.
- Acupuncture or dry needling for pain relief.
- Education on the injury: asking questions!
- Joint mobilisation or manipulation to loosen stiff joints.
- Medication to assist your pain, muscle tension or to assist you psychologically.
- Psychologist advice.
- Vestibular rehabilitation if dizziness is one of your symptoms.
- Soft tissue massage may assist for short-term muscle tension relief.
- Electrotherapy for pain relief and to assist early healing.
Most whiplash patients will start to feel better within a few weeks of the injury. Your physiotherapy treatment will aim to:
We strongly suggest that you discuss your specific whiplash injury after a thorough examination from a physiotherapist who specialise in whiplash associated
- Reduce neck pain, headaches and inflammation.
- Normalise joint range of motion.
- Strengthen your neck muscles.
- Strengthen your upper back muscles.
- Improve your neck posture.
- Normalise your muscle lengths and resting muscle tension.
- Resolve any deficit in neural tissue extensibility.
- Improve your neck proprioception, fine motor control and balance
- Improve your ability to cope with everyday activities, plus more stressful ones such as lifting.
- Minimise your chance of future neck pain or disability.
Will you get better? Yes. However, whiplash injuries can take from a few days to several months to rehabilitate.
Just as the symptoms and severity of whiplash can vary from person to person, so can the recovery time. The good news is that research shows the large
majority of whiplash sufferers recover with actively guided treatment.
There are many other factors which can impact on your recovery, including depression and trauma-related anxiety, so it is important to raise any additional
issues with a qualified health professional to give yourself the best chance of recovery.
For more advice, please consult your doctor or physiotherapist.
Whiplash Prevention Tips
How to Minimise or Prevent Whiplash
Common Whiplash Treatment Options
Early Injury Treatment
What to do after a Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?
Acupuncture and Dry Needling
Sub-Acute Soft Tissue Injury Treatment
Scapular Stabilisation Exercises
Proprioception & Balance Exercises
Soft Tissue Massage
Brace or Support
Deep Neck Stabilisation Exercises
Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
Joint Mobilisation Techniques
Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation (PIM)
Helpful Products for Whiplash
FAQs about Whiplash
Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques
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Physiotherapy & Exercise
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Massage Styles and their Benefits
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How to Minimise or Prevent Whiplash
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Neck Joint Injuries
Nerve-related / Referred Pain