Perhaps it was from a car accident, or a slip and fall, or hitting your head on something by accident.
Unfortunately injuries like this can happen quite commonly, and I wanted to share some information about whiplash injuries in a 3 part series as we head into the slippery winter season so that you know what you are dealing with.
The main discussion with this blog will involved the anatomy of a whiplash injury, followed by whiplash injury pain information and whiplash exercises.
The Anatomy of A Whiplash Injury
Now let’s take a moment to consider what happens with our anatomy when we sustain a whiplash injury using the example of a car accident.
When our vehicle is impacted, whether we see the collision coming or not, our head (and body) will move in the direction of where the impact occurred.
- So, if we are rear ended, our head and body will snap backwards towards the back of the car.
- Then it will rebound in the forward direction.
What is the result of this whipping motion? Likely a sore neck and body, to say the least.
- muscular and ligamentous injury, as well as
- joint jamming as some of our bony structures compress.
And why do all of these things happen?
When our head and body move quickly, our muscles will try to slow down that movement automatically as a part of our body’s protection mechanisms. Due to the force of an accident, injuries can result to:
- ligaments and
- bony structures
Since the force of the accident may overpower what our muscles are capable of stopping, our muscles can strain in the process.
And since our muscles cannot stop our movement, ligaments, which add stability between bones, are in place to stop the movement before further damage occurs. This can result in ligamentous sprains.
But if our muscles and our ligaments cannot stop the forces going through our bodies, bony structures can compress.
Some of the most commonly affected bony structures are our facet joints, which form at the attachment of each vertebra to the other on both the left and right sides.
Together, the injuries to the above structures are considered to be whiplash.
And everyone can experience these injuries differently.
Signs and symptoms of whiplash may include (1):
- Neck and back pain and stiffness
- Pain with head and neck/back movement
- Loss of range of motion of the neck and/or back
- Tenderness or pain in the upper back, shoulders or arms
- Numbness and/or tingling in the arms or hands
How Long Will Symptoms Last?
It can be a few weeks or it can be longer!
Most people who sustain a whiplash injury feel better within a few weeks, which makes sense, since healing of soft tissues (like muscles and ligaments) occurs in 6 weeks if there are not any complicating factors.
In some circumstances issues in the body following whiplash can persist for months or years (2).
What do Physiotherapists do to Help Someone with Whiplash?
Your physiotherapist will:
- Discuss how you sustained your injury, your history of injuries and what your day to day life looks like
- Examine the areas that are bothering you to determine which tissues are affected. This may include:
- upper back
- lower back
- shoulder and arm
- Provide hands-on treatment where appropriate
- Develop an exercise program designed to regain your range of motion and eventually build strength in the affected areas with consideration of your daily life and what you like to do for exercise
- Teach you about:
- which parts of your body are affected
- positions and postures that will be helpful and what things you should avoid
- signs that your body is recovering and signs of harm
- Refer you for massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care or medical imaging as needed
- Set out a plan for your recovery based on your goals
Whiplash is something that we at Donald Physiotherapy help people with very commonly there are many facets to consider when it comes to assisting someone with their recovery.
If you have had a whiplash injury or have more questions about whiplash, don’t hesitate to give us a shout.
This is a common injury for us to treat and we would be happy to help you.
And please stay tuned for the other two portions of this whiplash blog series.
Yours in health and recovery,
~ Kristyn Froc, Physiotherapist
- Whiplash. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/whiplash/symptoms-causes/syc-20378921. Accessed January 17, 2021.
- Sterner, Ylva; Toolanen, Göran et al. The Incidence of Whiplash Trauma and the Effects of Different Factors on Recovery. Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques: Apr 2003. Vol.16, no. 2;195-9.