Whiplash is the term used to broadly classify injuries resulting from a sudden acceleration / deceleration of the head and neck. The common example is the whiplash motion of the head in motor vehicle accident. Other common scenarios that involve a whiplash motion of the head and neck include a heavy fall onto one’s buttocks or back, resulting in sudden jerking back motion of the head. Similarly, sports involving high force body collisions can create whiplash scenarios.
If you have suffered a whiplash injury, particularly a high force injury such as a car crash, it is important to have the injury assessed by a doctor or physio. We can assess your condition to determine whether or not it is necessary for you to have diagnostic imaging such as an x-ray carried out. The purpose of the x-ray would be to rule out the presence of a suspected fracture to one of your neck bones. In the event that a fracture is present, you will likely be admitted to hospital for monitoring and treatment. Depending on the severity of the fracture, you could require surgery.
When the assessment reveals that there is no fracture, or no clinical signs of a fracture or other serious structural pathology, conservative (meaning non invasive, non surgical) management is indicated. This is where our role as physios is really important. If you’ve had a whiplash, and we know that there is no structural damage that has occurred to your neck, it is really important to commence a guided and graded return to your normal occupational and recreational activities sooner rather than later.
For most whiplash patients, the early days and weeks are very difficult. Typically the neck is very stiff and painful. There may also be associated symptoms such as pins and needles in your arms. Or you may have a headache, dizziness, nausea, a feeling of fatigue, cloudiness or vagueness. If the whiplash injury was a traumatic event like a car crash, you may also be dealing with flashbacks, anxiety or other changes to your emotional stability. Your sleep may be affected by any of these factors.
In short, whiplash injuries are difficult to recover from. The best way to ensure that your whiplash injury is painful and disabling for only a few months rather than years or decades, is to commence treatment early. An early assessment leads to more timely referrals to appropriate services. In addition to Physio, it’s not uncommon for your GP to include psychologists, social workers and other specialists in the management of a whiplash injury. Early assessment allows for more effective education with respect to the pathophysiology of a whiplash injury and your prognosis. Having an understanding of what is going on, and what is likely to happen at the next step, and the next step really helps whiplash patients get through the acute and subacute phases of the rehabilitation with less risk of developing chronic symptoms.
Generally, the early phases of whiplash management involve lots of education, reassurance, manual therapy and gentle exercise. Following that is a steady progression away from passive treatments such as manual therapy, towards active movement and exercise programs.
If you’re a Coogee or Eastern suburbs local and have had a whiplash injury, why not call us to discuss your treatment options on 9665 9667. You can speak directly with Pat our clinic owner to work out the best course of action for your scenario.