Everyone is familiar with the term “whiplash” which is an injury to the neck usually associated with rear-end car collisions, although there are other ways this injury can be caused such as a sports injury, specifically in a contact sport. It is caused by your neck bending forcibly forward and then backward, or vice versa - rapid acceleration/deceleration. The medical term for this injury is Whiplash-associated Disorder (WAD) usually involving the muscles, discs, nerves, and tendons in your neck. It can be extremely painful with symptoms persisting for short periods or depending on the severity of the injury, it may last for months, but it is treatable.
Your doctor or physiotherapist can make a proper assessment by taking a detailed history of how the injury was sustained and the symptoms you are experiencing. Many whiplash injuries involve soft tissue damage which will not show upon an X-ray although your doctor may use X-rays, MRI’s, and CT scans as a diagnostic tool or to rule out any other trauma. The Therapist will design a specific treatment for you based on: your age, overall health and medical history. Suggested treatment options will also include the extent of your injury; your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies; a prognosis and expectation for the course of your injury.
In whiplash or other neck injuries, the muscles and connective tissues in the neck can become torn or strained. This can lead to agonizing pain radiating in the head, as well as in the face, shoulders, or neck. Some patients experience some or all of the following symptoms: loss of range of motion in the neck; tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back or arms; low back pain; tingling or numbness in the arms, irritability and fatigue. Sometimes it can cause dizziness, blurred vision, ringing in your ears; memory issues and bouts of depression or anxiety.
Physiotherapy can help alleviate pain and increase strength and improve flexibility once the therapist has established the severity of your symptom. A customised treatment plan may include manual therapy and therapeutic exercises which will pump blood, oxygen and other nutrients to the injury site and promote healing. Other healing techniques a physical therapist may use to relieve your discomfort are: soft tissue mobilization; ice application for the first 24 hours; gentle active movement after 24 hours; a cervical (neck) collar; muscle relaxing medicines; non-steroid anti-inflammatory medicines such as Ibuprofen and specific exercises and targeted resting positions.
The sooner you seek and receive physiotherapy, the more likely you are to have a pain-free outcome. As a preventive measure in whiplash injuries, physiotherapy may also help prevent degenerative disc disease.
PT. Hannah Foster