Whiplash is a common cause of neck pain, which can also cause shoulder and arm pain. Occasionally, whiplash occurs as a result of sporting trauma, but more often it is a result of an automobile accident. The more correct term for Whiplash is a deceleration injury because it is often caused by the head decelerating in relation to the body, causing damage to the soft tissues of the neck.
The damage caused will depend upon whether the passenger was involved in a head-on or a rear-end collision. In a head-on collision, the neck and head continue to move forward while the body is stopped suddenly. The head only stops moving forward when the chin makes contact with the chest. This has the effect of stretching the structures of the back of the neck, namely ligaments and muscles.
In the case of a rear-end collision, the head and neck are thrown back in relation to the body and the stretch is applied to the muscles at the front of the neck. Joints at the back of the neck called facet joints are compressed and can also be damaged. In either of these two methods of injury, if the force applied is severe enough there may be damage to the discs in the neck; the nerves from the spinal cord may be damaged, blood vessels may be affected and there may even be bone injury.
Whiplash Signs and Symptoms
Immediately following the injury the neck pain may not be too severe. However neck pain and stiffness can gradually increase, usually reaching its worst point the day after the incident occurs. There may also be shoulder pain and pain down the back. If the nerves have been damaged, the person may experience tingling and numbness down the arms and hands. The person may also experience weakness in the arms and hands and may drop objects from their hands.
Other effects of a Whiplash Injury may include :
- Head feels too heavy for the neck.
- Reduced neck movement.
- Neck Stiffness.
- Pain in the shoulders and arms.
- Tingling in the arms and fingers.
- Dizziness, headaches, blurred vision and pain on swallowing.
- Irritability and difficulty to concentrate.
- Red eyes.
- Hearing problems.
These symptoms may or may not be severe but it is highly recommended that the person should be checked by a doctor in an Accident and Emergency Department.
In the early stages, pain-relieving medication prescribed by a doctor and rest is the most effective form of neck pain relief. Once the damage is restricted to soft tissues, the patient can self-refer themselves or be referred on by their doctor to a chartered physiotherapist for ongoing whiplash treatment.
Physiotherapy management of whiplash can be extremely effective. Physiotherapy care initially consists of a through history, orthopaedic, neurological and spinal examination to determine the exact the exact location of the neck pain. Diagnostic imaging such as Xray, CT, MRI scans may also be required to fully assess any damage.
Most whiplash patients should start to feel better within a few weeks of the injury. Your physiotherapy treatment will aim to :
- Reduce neck pain, headaches and inflammation.
- Normalise joint range of movement.
- Strengthen the neck and upper back muscles.
- Improve your neck posture.
- Reduce any nerve tension in the neck and shoulders.
- Improve your ability to cope with everyday activities.
- Minimise your chance of future neck pain and disability.
Just as the symptoms and severity of whiplash can vary from person to person, so can the recovery time. The good news is that research shows the large majority of whiplash sufferers recover with active guided treatment. However, whiplash injuries can take from a couple of days to several months to rehabilitate.
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