Whiplash has been in the media recently and 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
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.
Whiplash can usually be diagnosed from a description of your symptoms. Tests and scans are not usually required. Visit your GP if you have recently had a road accident or a sudden impact to your head and are experiencing pain and stiffness in your neck. Your GP will ask about your symptoms and details of how the injury happened. They may also examine your neck for signs of muscle spasm or tenderness and to assess the range of movement in your neck. They often refer you to a Physiotherapist but you can chose to see a private Physiotherapist without a GP referral. X rays and scans will usually only be recommended if a fracture or other problem is suspected.
Whiplash is often a self-limiting condition, meaning it eventually gets better on its own or after some basic treatment. If you have whiplash, it is better to move your neck rather than keep it still using a neck brace or collar. Your neck may be painful, but keeping it mobile from an early stage will improve its function and speed up your recovery. Keeping a good posture is important as this allows the tissues to heal in a good position and prevents longer term pain. 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.
In most cases, whiplash will eventually get better without any lasting damage. However, in a small number of cases, the pain can last for six months or longer. If you experience prolonged pain, you may find it difficult to carry out daily activities and enjoy your leisure time. It may also cause problems at work and could lead to anxiety and depression.
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 probably advise you on suitable exercises and pain relief, as well as tips on how to prevent further problems.
There are exercises that can reduce your neck pain and also prevent it coming back. The right sort of exercise, as advised by a Physiotherapist, can make a big difference. Lifestyle changes, such as being more active and improving your posture, may also help.