Whiplash is the term used to describe the acceleration-deceleration forces on the neck that may occur in a motor vehicle accident. Experiencing neck pain is common following a MVA and many people recover in a matter of days or weeks. However some people may develop long-term neck pain, therefore it is essential to manage the problem well in the early stages in order to maximize your chances of a good recovery.
Should I rest and stay off work?
Research has shown that it is better to try and continue your normal daily activities as soon as possible. (Wearing a neck brace or resting in bed for extended periods of time usually leads to poorer outcomes) Returning to normal activities can include:
- Household duties
- Light exercise eg. Walking
- Return to work (gradual return if needed)
You may need to limit some of your activities to minimize unnecessary strain on your neck in the early stages but over time you should be able to gradually increase your activity levels so that you can successfully return to full participation in work and leisure activities. A Physiotherapist can help guide you through this process.
Do I need an X-ray?
An X-ray will only show damage to bony structures and bone fractures in Whiplash are rare. If you can move your neck more than 50% of its normal range of motion, if you are not experiencing any pins and needles or numbness in one or both of your arms or the onset of your pain was some time after the accident, then it is very unlikely that you have sustained a fracture. A Physiotherapist can assess as to whether you need an X-ray.
How else can Physiotherapy help?
Physiotherapy can also assist in the management of Whiplash Associated Disorder by:
- Educating you on postures to minimize unnecessary strain on the spine
- Provide you with exercises to maintain the flexibility and muscle support of your neck
- Provide you with further information to help you take control of the situation
Under no circumstances should ‘hands-on’ treatment be performed in the first week following a Whiplash injury. Treatment should be focused on providing you with strategies to manage the problem yourself. The more active you are and the more you take control of the situation, the better your chances of a speedy and full recovery.