Whiplash is a common problem that people often consult osteopaths, physiotherapists, and chiropractors for within our Leeds and Manchester clinics. Whiplash type injuries can be new (acute), or can be an old whiplash injury (chronic) that’s still causing you problems. Either way, our professional practitioners can help to diagnose your issues and recommend treatment or management that may help.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a type of injury that results from a person’s head forcefully moving backward and then forward all of a sudden, causing extreme stresses to the neck and surrounding tissues. This is an injury that’s more commonly seen after rear-end car collision. However, whiplash can also be caused by other situations.
The medical name for whiplash is cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) syndrome or whiplash associated disorder (WAD). This injury normally causes soft tissues of the neck to move beyond their normal range of motion, however can also affect the vertebrae and nerves in the neck. What’s more, symptoms of a whiplash injury may not show up immediately. They can appear hours or days later.
Symptoms of whiplash may not appear right away—they may take several hours or days before showing up, and they can last several weeks or more.
The most common symptoms of whiplash include:-
- Neck pain & stiffness: pain may be mild or severe and may be located in one spot and/or radiate to other areas such as down the shoulder, into the arm and hand. Stiffness causes reduced range of motion, leading to tightened muscles.
- Headaches (especially at the base of the skull): from the muscles in the neck tightening, or could be caused by a nerve or joint in the cervical spine that has been irritated.
- Radiating/tingling/weakness/numbness: may occur if the injury causes compression to a nerve root.
- Dizziness: may be caused by neck instability or possible from concussion.
Blurred vision: may be due to concussion or nerve damage.
- Constant weariness: can be caused by poor sleeping, depression, stress, pain and more.
- Problems with concentration and memory: could be due to brain injury and/or pain/stress.
- Ringing in the ears: part of the brain that controls hearing may have been damaged, or the problem could be caused by nerve/vascular damage, jaw injury or stress.
- Disrupted sleep: pain, stress, and concussion can cause these sleep issues.
- Chronic pain in the head, neck and shoulders
What To Look Out For
Whiplash can be extremely painful, with pain ranging from numbing feelings (pins & needles) to excruciating, unbearable pain. Your range of motion will also be affected, as well as stability of the neck, shoulder and/or upper back pain, and headache. Some people may experience many of the symptoms at one time, while others may have only one or two.
Because there are so many whiplash symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose. However, most people fully recover from whiplash injuries in about three months. There are a small number of people who may go on to develop chronic pain that can last for years.
Longer recovery times can be increased by these factors:
Severe pain when first injured: if there’s severe pain directly after the accident, then there could be severe damage.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder): can make the condition worse by avoiding pain, social interactions, and more.
If a person is older: have a higher risk of suffering a whiplash injury because of normal degeneration of the spine or pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable.
If a person is female: have small bone structures and muscles, making them more vulnerable to whiplash.
What Causes Whiplash?
Whiplash can be caused by the following:
- Car accidents (typically rear-end collisions)
- Physical abuse (being shaken or punched in the face)
- Contact sports (including football, boxing and karate)
- Horseback riding
- Cycling accidents
- Falls (where the head jerks backwards)
- A heavy object hitting the head
How is Whiplash Diagnosed?
After an incident in which somebody sustains a whiplash type injury, most people are diagnosed by a doctor or physiotherapist. Assessment will usually involve a physical assessment to determine the extent of injury and determine the proper course of treatment.
The clinician may also order imaging services such as X-ray, MRI, or CT scans to rule out other problem and see the extent of the injury. Imaging scans can help show damage, inflammation in soft tissues, the spinal cord, and nerves.
In most cases, the clinician will also perform range of motion tests to see how well you can move your neck. They may also check your reflexes, muscle power/strength, and whether or not you can feel normal sensations.
Once the clinician has diagnosed you with whiplash they will normally “grade” your injury, then they will determine how to treat your condition.
How is Whiplash Treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms and the type of treatment you choose. We can tell you that all treatments are intended to reduce your pain and restore full movement to your neck and back. Our practitioners will develop a bespoke (customised) treatment for your specific requirements.
In most cases, whiplash is short lived and can be treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications to ease symptoms. If symptoms persist after 2-3 weeks additional help and advice may be indicated. After that, our practitioners may be able to advise a combination of treatments to help reduce your symptoms.
The symptoms of whiplash have been shown to respond to manual therapy and exercise therapy (stretching and strengthening). Manual therapy and exercise therapy can be delivered by a range of clinicians including osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists. To be more specific treatment may include mobilisation of stiff joints using very gentle manipulations and may use massage to release tension in the ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
It is important that other factors such as lifestyle, diet, mental health are also considered when treating any pain (especially whiplash).
It’s important to remember that healing from a whiplash injury takes time. For instance, those who play contact sports will need to be completely assessed before resuming those games again. Rushing through recovery before your neck is healed could lead to chronic neck pain or even chronic pain.
When Should I Book An Appointment?
Our practitioners can treat both old and new whiplash injuries, just get in touch and we’ll book you in for an assessment. If you are suffering from a new injury, you may find it helpful to take regular painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications to help ease your symptoms.
For more information, call your local clinic on the number below.
Leeds: 0113 345 5060
Manchester: 0161 503 5656