Whiplash: What Is It and How To Treat It
Have you encountered an accident that has affected how much you can move your head; giving you a real pain in the neck? (No pun intended, though.) If so, you may have a whiplash injury.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is commonly referred to as neck strain, and is usually associated with car accidents, contact sports or any blows towards the head and neck that cause it to move in a forward and backward motion rapidly and forcefully beyond their typical range of motion that causes severe neck pain, like a cracking of a whip.
Take note that whiplash (aka neck strain) is very different from neck sprains. Neck sprains occur when the ligaments (soft tissues that connect bones together) are torn, whereas whiplash is more related to the tearing of the tendons (the soft tissue that connect the muscles to the bones).
DID YOU KNOW?: Whiplash doesn’t ALWAYS occur from a traumatic accident. In fact, any accident with a small impact force can also cause whiplash to occur.
What are the symptoms of whiplash?
Symptoms may only occur after a few days or even months after the incident that caused whiplash. So it is important to get checked up by a healthcare professional soon after any incidents/ accidents.
There are many common symptoms that can indicate a whiplash injury, such as:
- Decreased range of motion in the neck
- Neck stiffness
- Pain when moving your neck back and forth, or in any direction
- Headaches at the back of the head
- Tenderness in the shoulder
- Inability to look over your shoulders
Some risk factors to take note of that can worsen or increase the likelihood of having whiplash:
- Prior experience of whiplash
- Existing lower back and neck pain
- Progressing age
- Weak deep neck flexor
In severe cases, whiplash can also lead to concussions which is why it should never be taken lightly. Therefore, it is always advisable to seek advice from health professionals as soon as you get hurt, especially after a car accident, a sports injury, or experience a fall.
DID YOU KNOW?: Other symptoms of whiplash include nausea, dizziness, numbness in the arms and difficulty breathing. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best that you get yourself checked out ASAP!
Can you easily recover from whiplash?
Yes! In most cases, patients with whiplash normally recover within a few weeks and do not have long-lasting complications. However, everyone’s experience is different – some patients can have whiplash for months or even years. If the way that you experience whiplash was traumatic from the start and you experienced severe pain and weakened arms, the likeliness of having chronic pain is higher which can also slow down your recovery phase.
Fret not – there are some methods that you can apply to speed up the recovery process, such as:
- Icing your neck
- Using a neck brace under guidance
- Taking medication
- Seeking medical treatment that is targeted towards neck pain
How is a patient diagnosed with whiplash?
Doctors will first assess your situation by asking questions about your pain, which areas are affected and the symptoms that you are experiencing in order for them to give a proper diagnosis. Doctors will also carry out a physical examination which include orthopaedic tests, neurological tests and observations to check your posture and range of motion, as well as palpate your head, neck and shoulders to test your degree of motion to see if there are any other sensations that you may feel when your head, shoulder and neck are moved in a certain way.
Imaging tests such as x-rays, MRIs and CT scans may also be recommended to see if there are any other conditions apart from whiplash that can be ruled out.
DID YOU KNOW?: If you’re still experiencing pain but your x-ray image appears normal, you can still suffer from whiplash.
What are the treatments for whiplash?
After assessing the factors and reviewing the conditions of a patient with whiplash, your doctor or chiropractor will provide a treatment plan that is best suited to you – whether it be something that can be treated at home or specialised treatment that requires medical attention.
Home care options for pain management may include the simplest treatments, such as getting enough rest and lessening movements that may injure your muscles further. Other forms of treatments may include putting on heat or cold packs, and taking prescribed muscle relaxants that can help soothe the pain and help you relax, especially if you are having trouble catching up on sleep due to discomfort.
Exercise is another form of treatment that can be easily done within the comforts of your home and will likely be recommended to increase the recovery process and restore the range of motion in your neck. These exercises can be in the form of rotating your neck in both directions, rolling your shoulders in both directions and tilting your head from left to right.
Although home care, exercises and medication may help in people suffering from whiplash, it is still always important to receive more professional help either with a physical therapist or doctor of chiropractic to get to know the root cause of the problem instead of just looking at symptomatically relief so as to mitigate the risk of recurrence in the future.
How can physical therapy treat whiplash?
Patients with whiplash should consider physical therapy as an option as physical therapists can help patients that need assistance with doing exercises and prevent further injury as well as correcting their posture and biomechanics of their movement.
Of course, symptoms may vary from person to person; some may require only a few therapy sessions, and others may need physical therapy for long term depending on the severity of their neck pain. At the end of the day, the goals of treatment are to restore proper neurological functions and biomechanics to your head, neck and shoulders and get you back to living a normal life.
Start treating your whiplash by visiting Elite Spine Centres!
Why suffer more than you need to? Over here at Elite Spine Centres, we make it a goal to provide the best treatment to resolve your whiplash condition. We apply the Functional Correction Method (FCM) where we look at the functionality of your body’s joints, spine and soft tissues and improve each of their functions to restore your health and improve healing.
Dr. Michael Bryant, doctor of chiropractic and member of the Alliance of Chiropractic (AOC) Singapore, graduated summa cum laude from Life University in Atlanta and received several distinctions, as well as completing additional coursework and NBCE certification in physiotherapy. Michael Bryant is the founder of Elite Spine Centers. Read more about Dr. Mike here.