What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a traumatic injury to the neck or back usually caused by a car or motor vehicle accident. Some other causes include sporting injuries or falls.
The doctor has already X-rayed my neck and nothing is wrong! Where is the pain coming from?
X-rays will only show damage to bones, for example, a fracture. Your pain is likely coming from damage to joint surfaces, bones, muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments in the neck region. It’s a bit like an ankle sprain involving the joints in your neck.
There are several vital structures existing in your neck, so thorough medical examination and physiotherapy assessment is very important.
Why did it happen to me?
Often, not every person involved in a car accident will experience symptoms. Women for example, tend to suffer whiplash injuries more frequently than men, because their muscles, joints and supporting ligaments are smaller and more fragile.
The speed and direction at which you were travelling, the size of the vehicle, whether you were a passenger or drive and what you were doing at the time (turning around to check on children, using a GPS, checking a blind spot) all influence the nature of the injury. Previous injuries to the neck can also influence recovery and pain levels.
What symptoms can I expect?
You may experience any of the following symptoms. Sometimes they are latent, meaning that they do not become apparent until a day or two after the incident. These are very typical whiplash symptoms. Don’t be alarmed by them. It is, however, important to let your Physiotherapist know about any of these:
- Neck, shoulder or arm pain
- Altered sensation (pins and
needles or numbness)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Visual and auditory symptoms
- Difficulty concentrating
These symptoms may change depending on the type of whiplash you have (acute or chronic).
What will your Physiotherapist do?
We know from research that using many different forms of treatment is the best way to treat many conditions, including whiplash. We might try a variety of the following:
- The mobilisation of joints in your neck
- Correct your posture
- Adjunct treatments such as
Western Acupuncture, laser, heat
and cold therapy, ultrasound
- Prescribe Pilates and/ or
generalised exercise programs to
improve strength, posture,
mobility and manage pain
- Talk about work or home
environments and make
What should I do?
- Chat to your physio about pain and symptoms- at Agility, we know that keeping our patients well informed helps them make a speedy recovery
- Try to keep your movements and daily activities as normal as possible (within reasonable pain limits)
- Exercise- discuss with your Physiotherapist as to which type of exercise is best to manage your whiplash.
At Agility, many people will try Pilates (or many continue Pilates they were doing before the accident) to strengthen muscles around the neck and shoulders, retrain the vestibular (balance system in the inner ear) system, or work on specific exercise for return to work or sport after their accident.
We can also provide advice on trying or recommencing other forms of exercise to manage pain and increase mobility.
Be pro- active! Have a daily plan of attack for pain management and exercise. Even simple stretching can help. Have reminders on hand to help you be consistent. Some people find it helpful to talk about the accident or their injury with a psychologist. We can help you find a suitable practitioner to talk to.
Talk to your doctor about taking pain medication in acute situations. It is easier to move normally when you are not in pain.
Do I need a neck collar?
No. Unless you have a serious fracture or instability, they can slow down your recovery.
Do I need time off work?
Like any injury, relative rest is quite important after a whiplash injury. Discuss specifics with your physiotherapist and they can help you plan your return to work. As you start to feel better, maintaining your exercise program, ensuring good work ergonomics and having occasional maintenance treatment is recommended.
Information gathered from:
“Your guide to whiplash recovery in the first 12 weeks after the accident”, Motor Accidents Authority, 2nd Ed. 2007 the University of Queensland’s Online Evidence Based Resource, accessed March 2013.