Whiplash is really a description of the mechanism of an injury that often occurs in a motor vehicle accident. It is now used loosely to describe the symptoms following such an accident. The same set of symptoms can come from other traumas such as a fall or from playing sport. The problem has been stigmatised by “dodgy” claims from insurers but the majority of people in car accidents have genuine and sometimes ongoing symptoms.
What it feels like
The main characteristic of whiplash pain is neck pain and headaches. Whilst many people with whiplash symptoms settle rapidly with time, physio, medication and care, a small percentage have persistent, ongoing pain with no clear cause. These often become “pain syndromes” and can be difficult to treat. Symptoms may not just be in the neck area, but may also involve the upper or lower back. In a motor vehicle accident, many other injuries may occur, such as fractures. These may take initial priority in medical management so the whiplash symptoms are well established before any treatment is undertaken.
What you can do
It is important to treat and manage whiplash symptoms sooner rather than later. If your pain is not settling over the first few days, the least you need is to get some advice on how to manage your problem. Ask your doctor to refer you for a Physio assessment. In the early stages, ice may be useful but after 48 hours some warmth will help. Limiting activities in the early stages is also a good thing. Long-standing symptoms need assessment and advice. Again, ask your doctor to refer you for a physio assessment.
What WE can do
We can offer early advice on self-care, sleep and work postures and what activities to avoid. This is critical with whiplash. The early aim is to help the body repair the injured tissues. After the first week, some mobilising treatment will also help. If symptoms persist, more active treatment including mobilisation, massage, acupuncture, specific exercise and postural instruction are all important. In the small percentage of people with persistent symptoms, intermittent treatment may be needed if symptoms flare up.