What Is Whiplash?

The term whiplash is commonly used to describe injuries to the muscles, ligaments and joints in the neck after a sudden acceleration-deceleration accident, such as being hit from behind in a car. Whiplash is a general non-medical term for these soft tissue injuries that can also be known as a cervical (neck) sprain or strain.

The main symptoms of whiplash usually include neck stiffness, pain and muscle spasm, but some people also get additional symptoms such as headaches, arm pain and light-headedness.  The shock of being in a car accident can also cause increased stress and anxiety, and research has shown this can exacerbate the symptoms.  These symptoms can appear immediately after the accident, but are sometimes not present until a few days after.

The good news is that the majority of people fully recover from a whiplash injury.  It is common for symptoms to vary in intensity throughout the recovery, and for people to recover at different rates. Most people can continue with their normal daily activities, which is encouraged, but it can take weeks or months for the discomfort to go away completely.  Studies have shown that people who keep active after a whiplash injury, continuing their usual activities as much as possible, including work and exercise, have a quicker recovery rate.

How can your Physio help?

Seeing a Physiotherapist soon after your accident can help speed up the recovery process.  Initially, a thorough assessment will rule out any significant bony injury, and then some gentle joint and soft tissue mobilisation can help reduce pain and improve movement.  Most importantly your Physiotherapist can help you with an exercise programme, which is essential for full recovery.

For more information on whiplash and guidelines for evidence-based exercises, a group of consultant Physiotherapists have published a self-management guide that can be downloaded from the Queensland Government’s Motor Accident Insurance Commission website.


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