Whiplash is a type of neck injury that can occur when the head and neck are rapidly moved back and forth.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a term used to describe neck pain following an injury to soft tissue and bony structures in your neck. It is caused by an acceleration-deceleration mechanism beyond the necks normal range of motion.
A number of different structures may be injured by a whiplash incident.
These may include;
- Spinal muscles
- Spinal discs
- Spinal joints
- Supporting ligaments
- Vertebrae (fractures)
Causes of Whiplash
Whiplash commonly occurs as a result of a motor vehicle accident, during sporting activities, accidental falls and is associated with concussion incidents.
Whiplash injuries will usually result in neck pain and neck stiffness. There may also be a complex of health-related symptoms such as neck pain, arm pain, back pain, headache, dizziness, fatigue, cognitive and psychological difficulties, and visual and auditory symptoms. Symptoms are not always immediate and can occur later following the incident.
Rehabilitation and Prevention
Physiotherapy is recommended in the treatment of managing whiplash injuries. Physiotherapy is aimed at providing pain relief and restoring functional movements. Adequate pain management is important early on and liaising with your GP may be required.
Physiotherapy can assist with the return of neck movement, neck strength and neck stability, which may be achieved with the following:
- A comprehensive rehabilitation and exercise program
Recovery can be slow following a whiplash injury and as such, it is important to restore normal movement as early as possible and begin a slow and evidence-based exercise program in order to assist with good recovery to prevent ongoing problems.
- Range of motion exercises
- Deep neck flexor
- Posture re-education
- Visual (eye follow/gaze stability training)
- Balance/proprioceptive training
- In Australia, the annual incidence of whiplash injuries is 106 per 100,000 and they comprise ~75% of all survivable MVC injuries with total costs of over $950 million per annum
- After being medically evaluated, approximately 90% of those who present to ED after MVC return home. Around 50% of those with WAD will fully recover, with 30% remaining moderately to severely.
- In a study by Nikles et al, (2017) of the 137 patients managed with WAD, 63% were female, 43% aged between 25-44 years and 80% occurred in major cities
The Team at Symmetry Physiotherapy
Nikles, J., Yelland, M., Bayram, C., Miller, G., & Sterling, M. (2017). Management of Whiplash Associated Disorders in Australian general practice. BMC musculoskeletal disorders, 18(1), 551. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-017-1899-0
Oostendorp, R., Elvers, J., van Trijffel, E., Rutten, G. M., Scholten-Peeters, G., Heijmans, M., Hendriks, E., Mikolajewska, E., De Kooning, M., Laekeman, M., Nijs, J., Roussel, N., & Samwel, H. (2020). Clinical Characteristics and Patient-Reported Outcomes of Primary Care Physiotherapy in Patients with Whiplash-Associated Disorders: A Longitudinal Observational Study. Patient preference and adherence, 14, 1733–1750. https://doi.org/10.2147/PPA.S262578
Sarrami, P., Armstrong, E., Naylor, J. M., & Harris, I. A. (2017). Factors predicting outcome in whiplash injury: a systematic meta-review of prognostic factors. Journal of orthopaedics and traumatology : official journal of the Italian Society of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, 18(1), 9–16. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10195-016-0431-x
Yadla, S., Ratliff, J. K., & Harrop, J. S. (2008). Whiplash: diagnosis, treatment, and associated injuries. Current reviews in musculoskeletal medicine, 1(1), 65–68. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12178-007-9008-x