Car Accident/Whiplash Injuries

 Car Accident/Whiplash Injuries

At K.M. Woods Physiotherapy, whiplash is one of our specialist areas when it comes to patient care, with anywhere between 50- 75 whiplash suffers attending our clinics every week.  Insurance statistics suggest up to 300,000 new cases of whiplash occur every year.

What is whiplash?
“Whiplash” is a term commonly used among medical professionals and the general public, often without any formal clinical diagnosis, to describe a wide range of symptoms typically presenting following trauma to the spine & trunk.

Despite this, whiplash is a specific condition, which requires accurate clinical diagnosis and classification, to enable appropriate clinical intervention and rehabilitation if pre-injury levels of function and comfort are to be regained

How does whiplash occur?
A whiplash-type-mechanism typically occurs as the result of a rapid acceleration-deceleration transfer of energy to the neck. The two most common scenarios in which such an injury mechanism can occur are a) road traffic accidents, & b) contact sports.

The actual harmful whiplash mechanism has been shown to occur within 200 milliseconds of impact.
Symptoms may often not present until 2 – 3 days following trauma, as they may be masked by trauma related adrenaline up to this point. Thereafter, the brain essentially tells the injured muscle to tense itself as a protective mechanism, working on the premise that a muscle that can’t be used or moved cannot be injured any further. This premise is generally sound, but if this muscular tension isn’t overcome with movement & physiotherapy, full natural recovery is somewhat unlikely.

What are the signs & symptoms?
A huge spectrum of signs & symptoms can manifest following a whiplash mechanism induced injury. Generally, these can include

  • Pain
  • Loss of muscular strength & endurance
  • Reduced neck/shoulder movement
  • Headaches
  • Inability of muscle to fully “relax” following use
  • Altered/reduced skin sensation
  • Sensation of pins & needles, tingling, burning etc in limbs
  • Psychological distress, anxiety
  • Ligament strain
  • Impaired co-ordination with eye & head movement
  • Disturbances in postural control
  • Intolerance of extreme cold

How long does full recovery take?
It is difficult to specifically predict how long the recovery process will take for any one individual, due to the huge amount of variables involved in a given accident, pre-existing health considerations, patient attitudes etc.

As a general guideline however, research has shown that approximately 50% of all whiplash sufferers will continue to experience symptoms after 3 months, with up to 35% of patients still experiencing some degree of symptoms after 12 months.

How can physiotherapy help?
At K.M. Woods Physiotherapy, we are fully aware of the need to treat the whiplash patient with a holistic approach, rather than simply treating the more obvious symptoms. As every patient presents with different symptoms, attitudes, & lifestyles, we believe that every treatment programme needs to be as individually tailored as possible.

Education is a huge part of our treatment, as we firmly believe that understanding ones condition is a huge necessity in gaining patient compliance with home exercises and in enabling the patient to come to terms with the trauma and subsequent shock which they have experienced. Educating the patient with regard to how lifestyle factors (posture, diet, hobbies etc.) can either impair or enable recovery is also vital in reducing recovery times.

Prescription of a home exercise programme is a huge part of the treatment approach, as the gains from clinical treatment need to be maintained and further built upon, by the patient, between physiotherapy treatments. Manual therapy is at the core of most treatment plans, with the physiotherapist’s hands-on treatment seeking to improve soft tissue health and spinal mobility.

Retraining of postural awareness is also a huge consideration, as compensatory poor postural habits often develop following a whiplash-type injury, likely secondary to pain avoidance. It is the restoration of normal postural habits which will enable a more rapid return to full health, rather than allowing altered posture to simply maintain a symptom irritant.

Head and eye co-ordination retraining is also necessary in some cases, as not only can discrepancies in such areas maintain a symptomatic response, but can also lead to other issues including dizziness, nausea, imbalance, and a feeling of lightheadedness.

Nerve tissue desensitisation may also be considered a possible component of any treatment programme, should the patient’s nerve tissues have become inflamed or irritated secondary to trauma.

Acupuncture is also often used in the treatment of whiplash conditions, to reduce muscle spasm and seek tissue relaxation, to induce the body’s natural pain relieving chemicals, and to increase local circulation in the implicated tissues.

How can I help myself?
Ultimately, the most important step one can take to help their recovery following a whiplash induced injury is to maintain as normal daily function as possible. While pain levels etc. are naturally likely to prove debilitating in the acute stages, fear of movement due to discomfort will simply feed into the harmful cycle of subsequent stiffness, which in turn will lead to increased discomfort.

Move the painful area as much as is reasonably tolerable, as it is this movement which will gradually encourage healing and a reduction in symptoms. Unless some significant issue (fracture etc) has been diagnosed, the pain induced by movement is simply a natural, protective response, and no further harm is actually being done. Once the painful area is moved consistently for several days, this stiffness will begin to gradually reduce, and symptoms will soon follow suit.

Other simple suggestions to enable self help include…

  • Applying heat (hot water bottle wrapped in tea towel) to the painful area, to reduce muscular tension and encourage healing
  • Taking regular breaks from ones desk at work, rather than sitting for several hours at once, to maintain joint and soft tissue mobility
  • Moving the neck itself in isolation, rather than moving the body as a whole.
  • Reducing any domestic tasks or hobbies which place a load on the injured tissues, to give these tissues time to heal
  • Being compliant with the home exercise programme prescribed by your physiotherapist.

Any further questions? Please drop us an e-mail, or phone 01413530906 to appoint with one of our highly qualified experts…