Most cases of whiplash are associated with car accidents where one car has crashed into the back of another. It is also possible to suffer whiplash as a result of collision during rugby or football, where a player has been hit hard from behind. The resulting impact from the collision impacts the flexibility of the cervical spine; the head is forced backward or forward and then whips back again with significant force.
The severity of pain resulting from whiplash can be significant at first, and then reduces almost overnight only to comeback the next morning. This condition, is due to the temporary loss of natural curvature in the neck, with the neck muscles potentially going into spasms which is natures way of trying to immobilise the affected area. Treatment can become quite complex as a rest of these painful spasms.
In 9 out of in cases of whiplash, we have found that doctors have not been able to distinguish any neurological impact, however suffering from whiplash can be a painful & frightening experience. In order to promote healing and ease pain doctors may offer stretching exercises and reassurance.
X-Rays or MRI do not generally help in aiding diagnosis, as whiplash injuries are usually only muscular. When comparing images of both older and young patients, you will generally notice that there are few changes in the neck for younger patients, however with older patients, it is often possible to observe osteoarthritis is present.
Whiplash victims should apply ice to the affected part of the neck straight after the accident. The benefit of ice is that it reduces the spread of pain by your nerves; the application of which should , ensure that there are fewer nerve messages telling the muscles to tighten up.
The best way to recover from whiplash is to ensure that you start your limbering exercises immediately.
With 2 or 3 days after the accident patients are often recommended to undertake exercises, two times a day, without overdoing it to the point that they feel pain. These exercises should be started gradually after having sought a GP's advice. Stretching causes significant sensitivity to neck muscles, and overstretch serves only exacerbate the pain & spasms. Most of all you should remember that the muscles need to remain relaxed completely between each exercise.
Where patients complain of pain shooting down into the arm & numbing of fingers, it would be prudent to undertake MRI or X-Rays, it is possible that it could be something that is more serious than whiplash & requires referral to a specialist.
Adam Gill, Physiotherapy Manager