What is Whiplash?

"Whiplash syndrome" is the name given to a group of neck pain syndromes most commonly resulting from rear-end vehicle impacts. Permanent damage is uncommon and your long-term outlook is good. Whiplash injuries are not usually serious and do not involve damage to the bones, discs or nerves in the neck.

The cause of pain in the acute (recent) stage after whiplash may be acute muscle injury, but there can be other significant injuries depending on the force of the injury. These can include spinal fracture, haematomas (bleeding into the tissues) and nerve damage.

Signs & Symptoms

Most people report pain in the back of the neck, worse on movement. Pain may radiate up to the head, across to the shoulders, arms or between the shoulder blades. Headaches are typically at the back of the head and spread forwards over the head.
Other, less common symptoms can be:
  • Disturbances of eyesight
  • Problems with balance and dizziness
  • Weakness and heaviness in the arms
  • Pins and needles on the inner sides of the hands
  • Hoarseness and difficulty swallowing and eating
  • Disturbances of hearing
Additionally, some bruising may occur in the seatbelt area. If rotation or turning of the neck is involved, then other structures in the neck may be affected, such as the nerves which pass between the vertebrae and out to the arm. The symptoms of whiplash may resemble other conditions and medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis. For mild to moderate severity of injury, early physiotherapy helps to ensure a full and quicker recovery. However, for severe injuries, physiotherapy for the neck may not be practical until a period of one to two weeks has passed as the patient is in too much pain during the initial period.

How physiotherapy Helps

Stockport Physio is experienced in dealing with whiplash and can use a variety of techniques to alleviate your pain and return you to full levels of activity. It is important to start treatment early as whiplash can develop into chronic back pain. Stockport Physio can:
  • Use sports massage techniques to speed up recovery (very important).
  • Apply joint manipulation techniques.
  • Use ultrasound and electrical stimulation.
  • Prescribe a rehabilitation programme and monitor it.
Initial treatment immediately after the incident will often involve the following and really depends on the findings and your physician's recommendation. Treatment may include:
  • ice applications for the first 24 hours - applying a cold pack, or even a small bag of frozen vegetables, such as peas or corn, placed in a light towel to the sore area for 10-15 minutes every few hours can be helpful. This will decrease the inflammation and cramping.

  • after 24 hours, use of both heat and cold can give you relief. Alternating between these can be helpful.

  • cervical (soft) collar - rest your neck by wearing a soft supportive collar or small towel roll pinned under the chin as needed for fatigue. Take care to preserve the normal curve of the neck when wearing a support. This should generally be worn for only two days as relying on a collar for a longer period can potentially be harmful; the muscles supporting your neck can become weak.

  • gentle active movement after 24 hours- movement is important for healing. Move the head frequently and gently in all directions, as long as the movement is comfortable and not forced.

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications- take these as directed and approved by your doctor. Inflammation is inevitable after whiplash so these medications can prove to be of significant importance during the first week post injury.

  • muscle relaxing medications - If you are in a car accident, it is very important to follow your doctor's directions and physiotherapist's instructions as best as you can in order to quicken your recovery. This is a serious injury which should be dealt with accordingly.

  • Components of the Rehabilitation Program - The program is usually between 4 and 8 weeks in length and includes the following:
    • A detailed initial assessment
    • A detailed initial report (for your insurance company and physician)
    • Completion of a treatment plan (for your insurance company)
    • A combination of the following treatments:
      - Education
      - Progressive Exercises (including stretches, strengthening and conditioning)
      - Postural Alignment Training
      - Ultrasound
      - Heat/Ice
      - Lumbar Support (low back support for sitting)
      - Massage Therapy
      - Joint Mobilization (hands-on treatment)
      - Manual & Mechanical Traction
      - Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
      - Interferential Current
      - Supportive Pillow
      - Home-Based Exercise Program
      - Taping
      - Laser

  • Progress report
  • Discharge Report
Stockport Physio stress the importance of proper care after injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident and encourage each patient to follow their instructions closely, following through with every component of the program.

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HPC - Health Professions Council      The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy      The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy      PhysioFirst       Association of Chartered Physiotherapists Interested in Neurology       Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists
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