What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury of the neck that involves a sudden stretch or movement.

Whiplash
Whiplash

It is most commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, where the neck is forcefully thrown forwards and then quickly comes back again. The high-velocity force can cause damage to the many muscles, ligaments and nerves in the neck.

Symptoms of whiplash may appear immediately, however it is common for them to take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to fully develop.

Symptoms can include:

  • neck pain
  • stiffness
  • reduced range of motion
  • headaches
  • balance problems
  • sensation changes

Physiotherapy for whiplash and neck injuries

Physiotherapy treatment for whiplash involves massage around the neck and shoulders, joint mobilisation in the neck and middle of back, and rehabilitation exercises for strengthening and stabilising. Occasionally people will use TENS machine, and/or heat to help with pain relief. Most whiplash cases resolve within 4 to 8 weeks if physiotherapy is started shortly after the injury.

Rehabilitation of the neck muscles is important in the recovery of whiplash.  Muscle imbalances in the neck often develop after such a traumatic injury. Most commonly, the big muscles of the neck and shoulders become overactive which means that they automatically turn on in order to protect the joints. This is often referred to as ‘guarding’.

This automatic muscle reaction is helpful during an injury or accident, however it becomes a problem afterwards when it doesn’t turn off. This can cause joint and muscle pain, reduced range of motion in the neck and headaches. Physiotherapy is aimed at relaxing the overactive muscles and encouraging the natural stability muscles to take over.