Whiplash – what you need to know

Whiplash is the term used to describe an injury at the neck, which is caused by forceful and rapid back and forth movement of the head. It can cause damage to the bones in the spine, disks between the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves and other tissues of the neck. It is most attributed to car accidents – most typically a rear-end collision. Though, there are other ways the neck can suffer similar forces and motions, including, but not limited to, sporting injuries – for example tackling in contact sports such as rugby or a punch to the face in boxing. You can also suffer whiplash from something as innocuous as a slip or a fall and other traumatic accidents.

What to look out for

The symptoms and timespan of indications of a whiplash injury can vary, but there are certain signs to look out for including:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Worsening of pain with neck movement
  • Loss of range of motion in the neck
  • Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull
  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back or arms
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

Occasionally and in more severe cases some people also have:

  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Depression

It is important to note that all these symptoms usually occur within a few days of the accident or trauma, however they can present a lot later down the line of recovery. In any circumstance, if these symptoms cannot be linked to an accident as described above you should seek medical advice.

If you have had a car accident, sporting injury or any other trauma to the head or neck you should get it looked at straight away in order to get an accurate diagnosis. If you suspect you have whiplash it is important to rule out any other concerns such as broken bones or other damage that could worsen symptoms.

How long does it take to recover? 

Most people will start to feel back to normal after just a few weeks, however, in some cases you can continue to have pain and other issues for months, potentially years after the injury. There is no way of predicting how a whiplash injury will affect everyone, you can however try and reduce your chances of long-term problems by doing one or all of the following:

  • Get an early and prompt diagnosis
  • Follow your practitioner’s advice
  • Stay active
  • Ice
  • Avoid heavy lifting and anything else that puts increased strain on the neck
  • Maintain general and gentle movements
  • Seek treatment and an exercise programme from a physiotherapist

What can private physiotherapy do for a whiplash injury?

Private Physiotherapy can help to reduce pain and increase range of motion through the use of various hands on treatment modalities, such as:

  • Soft tissue massage
  • Joint mobilisations
  • Acupuncture
  • Ultrasound

At Physio Answers we can also provide you with some prescriptive exercises to do daily which will aim to increase pain free range of movement, improve mobility and stability around the neck and regain strength in the supporting muscles.  For more information, please contact us by visiting our contact page.