Pure Physio Blog

Whipping Whiplash Away – ASAP!

Published on
05 Oct 2015

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I’ve often seen clients in the clinic who have a history of whiplash and ongoing neck/shoulder/upper back problems, and it can be quite difficult to manage these issues once it’s years down the track. The key is to get in early with graduated treatment and return to activity.

Whiplash is a common term used to describe neck injuries associated with strong acceleration-deceleration forces to the head and the neck. Studies show that 46% of people in car accidents develop whiplash-associated disorders, but it can also be caused by other jolting movements such as falls, assault, skiing and snowboarding – even head banging!

The mechanism involves rapid acceleration and deceleration of the neck that strains the muscles, ligaments and nerves of the cervical spine as they work to stop the (rather heavy) head from falling off! Symptoms can include neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, as well as other upper limb effects.

The effects of a whiplash injury can be felt immediately, but often may not appear for a few hours, or even a few days later. The main issue for people after the whiplash incident is it’s long-term effects on neck and/or shoulder pain, with research showing that 50% of people with whiplash will develop chronic neck pain.

There is good evidence to suggest that most of the recovery after whiplash occurs within the first 2-3 months post-injury.  After this, progress tends to plateau and remain an ongoing issue. One study showed that the pain level and function of participants with whiplash one month after their incident was a reliable indicator of long-term outcomes, i.e. those who still had high levels of pain/limitation after one month were much more likely to continue to have issues in the long run and develop chronic neck pain. This highlights the importance of early intervention, whereby reducing pain levels and increasing function within the first month of the injury decreases the risk of chronic neck and upper limb problems.

It is crucial that a comprehensive assessment of the neck, shoulders, upper back and upper limbs is completed after a whiplash injury to determine the appropriate treatment plan. Optimal management should include pain modulation techniques, as well as specific muscle strength and control retraining to ensure the best chance of making a full recovery.

I’ve often seen clients in the clinic who have a history of whiplash and ongoing neck/shoulder/upper back problems, and it can be quite difficult to manage these issues once it’s years down the track. The key is to get in early with graduated treatment and return to activity – if symptoms after a whiplash injury are left to just ‘see how they go’, chances are, they actually never go! Make sure you get in early to ensure the best possible result for you!

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