What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury to the neck as a result of an acceleration-deceleration mechanism. This can result in bony or soft tissue damage to the structures in and around your cervical spine (neck).
How Can It Happen?
- Often this injury can occur during motor vehicle accidents, specifically in rear-end collisions. When your vehicle is hit from behind, your vehicle and shoulders will accelerate forward while your neck is forced backwards into hyperextension, followed by your head returning back into a forward flexed position after the impact (back and forth motion).
- Whiplash injuries can also occur in many sportswhere athletes are travelling at high speeds such as diving, ice hockey and snowboarding.
Classification System for Whiplash
These injuries are classified into 3 different Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD) levels/classes, depending on the structures involved and symptoms being experienced by the patient.
- WAD I: Patients presenting with neck pain, stiffness and tenderness only
- WAD II: Patients presenting with neck pain, tenderness, as well as decreased range of motion of the neck (decreased ability to move the neck in specific directions)
- WAD III: Patients presenting with neck pain, tenderness, decreased range of motion, as well as neurological signs and symptoms which may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Poor sensation in neck, arms or hands
- Absent reflexes
How Do I know If I Have Experienced a Whiplash Injury?
After a traumatic incident, common signs and symptoms of a whiplash injury include:
- Pain and/or headaches in suboccipital region (just underneath your skull on the back of your neck)
- Limited and painful neck movement
- Neck stiffness
- Decreased sensation or feeling numbness/pins and needles in neck or arms
- Hypersensitivity of neck region=
- Feeling of weakness in neck or arms
- Muscular soreness and tension in front or back of neck
- Feeling that neck is unstable.
Treatment / Recovery
Treatment and rehabilitation following a whiplash injury is individualized, much like one’s injury presentation, based on an individual’s mechanism of injury, symptoms, clinical diagnosis, and treatment plan. Treatment often involves a multidisciplinary approach, involving a combination of treatment techniques, often involving physiotherapy and massage therapy.
Depending on the type of whiplash you are experiencing, your physiotherapist will provide you with a specific treatment plan to begin your recovery process. Treatment may include:
- Education on how to manage the symptoms and continuing your normal routine.
- Active treatment & exercise/posture.
- Muscle retraining for activation, proprioception (position-sense).
- Acupuncture / Dry Needling.
- Manual Therapy, including joint and tissue mobilizations.
- Vestibular rehabilitation, if you are experiencing dizziness symptoms.
This often may involve concurrent treatment sessions with a massage therapist to decrease the tension in your neck and shoulder area.