Recovering after whiplash injury
Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck. Whiplash most often occurs during a rear-end auto accident, but the injury can also result from a sports accident, physical abuse or other trauma.
Common signs and symptoms include neck pain, stiffness and headaches. Most people with whiplash get better within a few weeks by following a treatment plan that includes pain medication and exercise. However, some people have chronic neck pain and other long-lasting complications.
Whiplash may be called a neck sprain or strain, but these terms also include other types of neck injuries.
Anytime your head jerks backward or forward, the impact can strain your sternocleidomastoid muscles.
Located on each side of your neck, those are what you use to tilt your head or turn from side to side. A sudden movement stretches or tears the muscles or tendons, resulting in what's commonly known as whiplash but may also be called a hyperextension injury, cervical strain or sprain, or acceleration-flexion neck injury.
Causes of whiplash:
Auto accidents. Rear-end collisions are a commen cause of whiplash.
Physical abuse/ assault. Whiplash can occur if you are punched or shaken.
Contact sports. Football tackles and other sports-related collisions can sometimes cause whiplash.
Symptoms of Whiplash
Tightness, stiffness and soreness in your neck
Swelling, bruising, redness and/or tenderness
Dizziness and pain when moving your head
Decreased range of motion
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
Most people feel better within a few weeks. However, some people continue to have pain for several months or years after the injury occurred, depending on your bodies self-regulating forces and wound healing.
It is difficult to predict how each person may recover. In general, you may be more likely to have chronic pain if your first symptoms were intense, started rapidly and had previous injuries or conditions.
The following risk factors have been linked to a worse outcome:
Having had whiplash before
Existing low back or neck pain
Treatment for recovery
Whiplash causes micro-tearing of muscle and other supportive tissues, such as tendons and ligaments, requiring repair and protection by scar tissue. You may only start to experience pain once the muscle has begun to heal and scar tissue starts to form. Scar tissue lays down in haphazard formations similar to fiberglass and may cause the underlying bone, tissue and muscle fibers to get “stuck” together. You experience this as a pulling or tightness that results in a loss of flexibility or range of motion.
Massage is the most effective treatment, besides physiotherapy (including electrotherapy) and gentle stretching, for breaking up and realigning scar tissue and increasing mobility associated with Whiplash. The therapist uses a method called cross-fiber friction that works counter to the direction of the muscle to loosen adhesions and decrease scar tissue build up, as well as decreasing the tension in targeted areas. In addition, the therapist may use other strokes and stretches in areas adjoining the primary area of injury to restore full range of motion.
So, if you have been in an accident and now experience muscle tension or pain in your in neck, shoulders or lower back, you are likely experiencing the effects of whiplash. To find the best treatment tailored to your needs, get in touch with a physiotherapist or massage therapist.