A Crash Course in Healing from Acute Whiplash

Get on the road to recovery from acute whiplash with help from your physical therapist
By Luna
A Crash Course in Healing from Acute Whiplash

Remember the crash test dummy commercials promoting seatbelt use? The videos are amusing, but there’s nothing funny about the pain that you suffer from an auto accident such as a rear-end or sideways collision. These collisions are a primary cause of acute whiplash. Bike accidents, physical abuse or assault, and contact sports can also cause whiplash. 

Whiplash can occur if your head is suddenly and forcefully thrown forward, backward, or sideways. This motion can overstretch and sprain the ligaments and tendons in the neck, causing protective reflexes from our body causing pain, stiffness, muscle spasms and overall limitation in function.

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Whiplash

Experts at the Mayo Clinic say that whiplash signs and symptoms usually appear within 24 hours of being injured and may include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Pain that worsens when moving your neck
  • Loss of range of motion in your neck
  • Headaches that start at the base of the skull
  • Pain or tenderness in your shoulder, upper back, or arms
  • Tingling or numbness in your arms
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

You may also experience other symptoms such as problems with concentration or memory, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and depression. 

How to Treat Acute Whiplash 

Treatment of whiplash focuses on easing your neck pain and stiffness as well as healing your muscles, ligaments, and tendons, according to Medical News Today. To help relieve your pain, your doctor may recommend rest, heat or cold, over-the-counter pain medications, muscle relaxants, or injections. Soft foam cervical collars used to be popular for treating whiplash. However, keeping your neck immobile for too long can weaken your muscle strength and hinder recovery.

Acute Whiplash and Physical Therapy

Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy. “Physical therapy is an effective treatment option for whiplash, especially when combined with other treatments, such as bracing and medications,” a SpineUniverse article notes. “In whiplash, the soft tissues in your neck are compromised, so a physical therapist can work with you to restore proper function and movement of those tissues.”
“While pain medications, muscle relaxants help with decreasing pain and muscle stiffness, a physical therapist can create a program to keep you active without irritating your pain, “ says Palak Shah, PT. “This will help to decrease the use of your pain medications sooner. While protecting neck movement, physical therapists help ensure the mobility of your upper back and thoracic spine stays intact and also introduces exercises for the thoracic spine and shoulder which helps maintain daily function.”

As Shah notes, “Some patients with acute whiplash can also experience dizziness, nausea, and instability, which limits traveling, driving and sudden movements or change in position. Physical therapists with vestibular training can help significantly to improve vestibular function, decrease dizziness and return to full independent function.” 

If you have acute whiplash, physical limitations make driving to a clinic for therapy very daunting. It may also delay your care or you might just ignore receiving PT at all. Instead, consider on-demand physical therapy. A board-certified physical therapist will visit your home or office when it’s convenient for you and in an environment that is comfortable and non-stimulating Getting early access to care in your home will help you one-on-one complete your course of care and you will find it easier to adhere to your exercise program. That means you’ll heal better, faster and be back to living the life you want.

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