Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD), or whiplash for short, is an injury resulting from a severe jerk to the head. Most people experience whiplash following a motor vehicle accident because we do not have enough time to brace ourselves for the impact of the collision. We are unable to contract our muscles faster than 700-800 milliseconds but the whiplash cycle is over within 300ms, leaving us in extreme pain with limited mobility in the affected area.
There are many factors involved that determine the degree of whiplash you can sustain. These factors vary from the size of the vehicles present in the crash, the speed at which they are travelling, road conditions, and the angle of the crash. Furthermore, your size and gender, the position of the headrest, and the absorption of the crash, will influence your injury.
What are the symptoms of whiplash?
Whiplash is a very serious injury that will leave you in pain with decreased range of motion in your neck. You could also experience neck tightness and your muscles could feel knotted or hard. In addition, whiplash causes pain and stiffness when moving or rocking your head from side to side and looking over your shoulders. Your neck could feel tender and some people experience headaches starting at the base of the skull, radiating towards the forehead. In some cases, people may not experience any pain until a few hours or days following their accident, whereas others feel pain immediately after impact.
If the accident that leads to your whiplash is severe, you could find yourself concussed. The effects of a concussion are headache, dizziness, weakness, trouble talking, confusion, nausea and extreme fatigue.
How is whiplash diagnosed?
After your accident, you’ll mostly be taken to the hospital or visit the doctor soon after the collision. The doctor will perform a thorough exam to see the full extent of your injuries. This examination will include tests, X-rays and maybe a CT scan if the injury is severe.
Exercises for whiplash you can do at home
If you’ve been in a motor vehicle accident and are suffering from whiplash, there are five exercises you can do at home. Each of the five exercises will stretch, strengthen and stabilize your neck, helping to restore function.
Isometrics: This type of exercise is helps speed up your recovery without damaging your muscles. In order to perform this isometric exercise, place your palm on your forehead. Then, push your head against your palm without bending your neck at all. Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10 times per day.
Neck bend: Position yourself in either a standing or sitting position (whatever is most comfortable) and do a basic neck bend by slowly moving your chin towards your chest. Hold for 3-5 seconds before gradually returning to a normal position. Make sure to stretch out those shoulder blades otherwise you may find yourself slouching. Repeat 10 times daily.
Neck turn: To work on your neck mobility this exercise involves making lateral turns. To do a neck turn, stand straight and slowly turn your neck to the right. When you feel your neck muscles pulling, return your neck back to its normal position. Do the same to the left. Repeat 10 times each day on both sides.
Upper back twist: If you find yourself suffering from upper back aches after sustaining whiplash, you’ll find this exercise particularly soothing. While sitting upright, turn your torso to the right, stopping when you feel your muscles pull. Repeat on the left side. Perform this exercise 12 times per side each day.
Neck extension: To do a proper neck extension, you’ll need to sit up straight and bend your neck backwards while looking up at the ceiling. Keep this position until you can feel a stretch and hold for 3-5 seconds. Return your neck to its normal position and repeat 10 times each day
What else is involved in the treatment of whiplash?
Besides neck exercises, whiplash treatment is multi-faceted. Your doctor, in conjunction with your physiotherapist, will come up with a treatment plan that can include the use of prescription painkillers to help with pain management, massage, icing and heating the affected area, wearing a neck brace or collar for a short period of time, and ultrasound therapy.
How long is the recovery period for whiplash?
Everyone responds to treatment differently, so it’s difficult to set an exact timeline for recovery. Some people are able to get back to their normal selves within a few weeks while others require months of intensive therapy to be able to move their necks without pain.
After sustaining whiplash, there are two muscles groups in the neck, the deep neck flexors and extensors, that are very hard to isolate. For this reason, it’s important that you check with your physiotherapist before performing any of the home exercises. You can also contact Focus Physiotherapy for more information and to book an appointment with one of our registered physiotherapists.