Whiplash injury is the term used to describe injuries sustained as a result of sudden acceleration-deceleration movements (such as those associated with motor vehicle accidents). The sudden movement can strain muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues without breaking a bone. The cervical spine (neck) is a complex structure composed of vertebrae (spinal bones), intervertebral discs (act as shock absorbers), muscles, ligaments, and nerves. The neck is flexible and can move in different directions (nod, rotate) while supporting the full weight of the head.
However, that flexibility can make the neck vulnerable to injury. During a whiplash incident, your neck moves forcefully and rapidly backward and forward. Pain can persist even after the injury itself has healed.
What Causes Whiplash Injury?
This type of injury is often associated with car accidents. However, it can also be triggered by:
- Roller coasters
- Bungy jumping
- High-impact contact sports such as football or boxing
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
The symptoms and severity of whiplash vary significantly among people. The most common is neck pain and stiffness and it can start immediately after the injury or up to several days later.
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Shoulder pain, arm pain, or upper back pain.
- Altered sensation
- Visual disturbances
- Hearing difficulties
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing
- Difficulty concentrating
Research shows the most effective way to treat your injury is with a combination of treatment options which are tailored to your individual dysfunctions. Physiotherapy treatment will aim to:
- Reduce neck pain, headaches and inflammation.
- Normalize joint range of motion.
- Strengthen neck muscles and upper back muscles.
- Improve neck posture and normalize muscle lengths and resting muscle tension.
- Resolve any deficit.
- Improve neck proprioception, fine motor control and balance
- Improve ability to cope with everyday activities, plus more stressful ones such as lifting.
- Minimize risk of future neck pain or disability.
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. It’s best to see a specialist as soon as possible after your injury. Not only do you want to start reducing symptoms right away but a swift diagnosis and treatment plan reduces the development of additional complications and will also help to rule out any potentially dangerous complications that may be occurring.
The prognosis of whiplash injury is unknown and unpredictable, some cases remain acute with a full recovery while some progress to chronic with long term pain and disability. The good news is that research shows many whiplash sufferers recover with actively guided treatment. We advise that you discuss your specific whiplash injury after a thorough examination from a physiotherapist who can assist in whiplash-associated disorder.