Car Accident/Whiplash & Neck Pain

 Car Accident/Whiplash & Neck Pain

At K.M. Woods Physiotherapy, whiplash and neck pain are two of  the specialist areas in which our highly trained physiotherapy staff excel. With many whiplash and neck pain patients our clinics every week, from an array of backgrounds with an array of injury mechanisms, we have become experts in treating such patients and helping them return to their pre-injury levels of function and leisurely activity without pain.

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. Road traffic accidents are the primary cause of whiplash injuries, with sporting tackles or falls other common causes.

Despite this, whiplash is a specific condition, which requires accurate clinical diagnosis and classification, to enable appropriate physiotherapy treatment and rehabilitation if pre-injury levels of function and comfort are to be regained. A general approach to treatment will often fail to suffice, due to the complex anatomy of the upper neck and the various structures that can be traumatized when injured.

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

The actual harmful whiplash mechanism has been shown to occur within less than one second 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 to protect the implicated spinal area and surrounding area, working on the premise that a taut muscle will prevent excessive use of the “injured” body part which theoretically requires protecting. This premise is generally sound, but if this initially helpful muscular tension isn’t gradually reduced with movement & physiotherapy, full natural recovery of movement and reduction of pain is 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. While symptoms may remain such a long time after the traumatic incident, that is not to say that symptoms will not be much improved by this time however.

 

How can physiotherapy help?
At K.M. Woods Physiotherapy Ltd., we strive to treat the whiplash patient with a holistic approach as has been shown to be most effective, rather than simply treating the most troublesome symptoms. As every patient presents with different symptoms, attitudes, & lifestyles, we believe that every treatment programme needs to be as individually tailored as possible. This tailored approach ensures the patient will receive the most appropriate care and advice, as the most appropriate times, to ensure improvements in symptoms are achieved as quickly as is possible.

Education is a huge part of our treatment, as we at K.M. Woods Physiotherapy Ltd. believe that ensuring the patient understands the details of their condition is vital in gaining patient “buy in” to treatment, ensuring they are patient enough with and committed to the rehabilitation plan and recovery process.  Educating the patient with regard to how lifestyle factors (exercise tolerance, posture, diet, hobbies etc.) can either impair or enable recovery, and is therefore also vital in speeding up 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. Hands-on physiotherapy treatment is at the core of most treatment plans, with the physiotherapist’s hands-on treatment seeking to improve soft tissue health and general movement.

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 and movement 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 symptoms, 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  irritated secondary to trauma or protective postural responses.

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, within your levels of discomfort tolerance. 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 and pain.

Move the painful area as much as is reasonably tolerable (working into discomfort & stiffness, but not acute soreness or pain), 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 discomfort 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 circulation and subsequent healing
  • Taking regular breaks from ones desk at work, rather than sitting for several hours at once, to maintain joint and soft tissue mobility, and circulation to the injured body site.
  • Moving the neck itself in isolation, rather than moving the body as a whole, a common protective response seen in many patients when checking their blind spot while driving etc.
  • Reducing any domestic tasks or hobbies which place an excessive load on the injured tissues, to give these tissues time to heal without aggravation.
  • 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 physiotherapy staff members, gain control over that frustrating neck pain, and get back to playing your sport and doing what you love with your life…