Whiplash is a term used to describe a neck injury caused by a sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways.
It is common in road traffic accidents but may also be caused by sports injuries, falls or assaults. Most cases of whiplash injury occur as the result of rear-end vehicle collisions at speeds of less than 14 miles per hour.
Common symptoms of whiplash include neck pain and stiffness, tenderness over the neck muscles, reduced and painful neck movements and headaches.
Less common symptoms include low back pain, dizziness, numbness in the arms, pins and needles, insomnia, anxiety and depression.
After an accident, the symptoms of whiplash often take a while (6-12 hours) to develop. The neck pain and stiffness is often worse on the day after the injury and may get worse for several days afterwards.
Following a neck injury or whiplash the most important thing is to regain the movement as fast as possible. The following advice and exercises will help you regain the movement, which in turn helps to reduce the pain. Your posture, the way you sit and stand, must be correct to ensure the muscles and ligaments in your neck heal properly.
It is important to support your back while sitting. Avoid soft or low chairs and do not slouch. Avoid any activity where your head is down, e.g. reading or working at a desk. Use a firm, high-backed chair with a cushion or rolled towel in the small of your back for support and tuck your chin in. When standing, try to stand tall, as if you were being pulled up by a string from the top of your head. Correct posture will allow your bodies healing process to happen as fast as possible.
Painkillers, such as Paracetamol and non steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAID), such as Ibuprofen, can be used to help relieve the pain. It is important to keep moving and painkillers will allow you to do this more comfortably.
Inflammation is your body’s response to injury and is part of the healing process. You can help your body with the use of ice or heat. If you neck feels hot and swollen use an ice pack, well wrapped in a towel to prevent an ice burn, on your neck. Lie flat on your back with your knees slightly bent, or with a pillow under your knees, and a pillow under your head and the ice pack under your neck. Rest like this for 10 minutes, then in this position perform the exercises described below. If your neck feels tight and weak you may prefer to use heat instead of ice. This is done in the same way as described above, but substitute a well wrapped hot water bottle or a microwavable wheat bag for the ice pack. This treatment should be performed with the exercises every two hours through the day for at least a week and longer if necessary.
Your head weighs a tenth of your body weight. This is why it can be painful to move your neck when sitting or standing. Perform these exercises initially lying down as described above to take the weight off your neck joints. When you are more comfortable you can try them sitting up with your head in the correct posture with your chin tucked in gently. It is important to do these exercises within the limits of your pain - do not push into the pain. Continue with these exercises until your neck is pain free and all your movements have returned.
1. Gently turn your head as far as you comfortably can to the left and then the right. Perform these slowly about ten times in each direction.
2. Tuck your chin in towards your chest, as if making a double chin, without lifting your head from the pillow. Hold this position for about five seconds and repeat approx. ten times.
Physiotherapy is of great benefit in most cases of Whiplash. Physios can help reduce the pain by mobilising stiff joints, relaxing tight muscles and teaching you correct posture and exercises to help with a long term solution to the pain. It is important to understand that although you are experiencing pain it does not mean that it is causing harm or is an indication of ongoing damage - Physios can give you the confidence to move again!
Research shows that both Physiotherapy and Acupuncture are effective in the treatment of neck pain and disability associated with Whiplash. Physiotherapy is extremely effective in treating Musculo-skeletal disorders (MSD) like Whiplash. In one study 80 per cent of people who had physiotherapy for their MSD were able to carry on working and did not have to take time off.
Physiotherapists are highly skilled at supporting people with all types neck pain. They may give you hands-on treatment such as manual therapy and acupuncture. Your Physio will advise you on suitable exercises and pain relief, as well as tips on how to prevent further problems.
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