What is a whiplash neck sprain?
A whiplash neck sprain occurs when your head is suddenly jolted backwards and forwards in a whip-like movement usually caused in motor car accidents known as a “rear-ender”. These movements generate considerable force, typically causing the neck to move far beyond the normal range of movement and causes damage to the delicate supporting structures of the neck. Whiplash is effectively a sprain of the joints in the neck – Physiotherapists refer to this as a vertebral dysfunction.
Whiplash can also result from forceful sporting injuries that cause similar stress to the neck joints, ligaments, muscles and discs.
Who gets whiplash?
Whiplash neck sprains are common. About 2 in 3 people involved in car accidents develop neck pain (with or without other injuries). Many people are surprised with the onset of neck pain following even minor accidents some hours following the accident. It is important to note that even minor car bumps can cause enough whipping of the neck to cause symptoms. Less commonly, whiplash can result from everyday mishaps such as jolting your neck when you trip of fall.
Whilst the symptoms of whiplash will vary, the following represent the most frequently noticed effects of whiplash.
- Pain in the neck
- Head feels too heavy for the neck
- Reduced neck movement
- Neck stiffness
- Pain into the shoulders and arms
- Tingling in the arms and fingers
- Dizziness, headache, blurred vision and pain on swallowing
- Irritability and difficulty to concentrate
Physiotherapy management of whiplash is extremely effective. All Physiotherapy care initially consists of a through history, orthopaedic, neurological and spinal examination to determine the exact location of your neck pain. Diagnostic imaging such as Xray, CT,MRI and posture pro scans may also be required to fully assess any damage.
Treatment consists of reducing pain and inflammation and stabilizing your neck to prevent further damage. Ice is perhaps the best natural anti-inflammatory modality and it is also very soothing when your neck is painful.
If you are able to support your head and neck, it is especially important to keep your neck mobile rather than immobilizing it in a soft cervical collar. Studies have shown that you are more likely to make a quicker recovery if you do regular neck exercises, and keep your neck active rather than resting it for long periods in a collar.
As your pain decreases, and your stability improves, your physiotherapist will massage and gently mobilize your spine to help improve your neck function and reduce nerve pressure.
Some other helpful advice is to avoid poor neck posture during your daily routine and to use a firm supporting contoured pillow when sleeping.
Whiplash responds very well to Physiotherapy treatment, with most people experiencing significant improvement within weeks of beginning care.