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Whiplash Injury: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Exercises

What is Whiplash?

whiplash injury treatment TorontoWhiplash is an injury resulting from rapid acceleration-deceleration force to the head, neck and or spine. It occurs commonly a result of a car accident, fall or sport injury. A sudden force from any direction causes your very mobile neck attached to a heavy head to move beyond its natural range of motion. This causes overstretching and/or compression of the tissues resulting in micro traumas to the tissue not detectable by X-ray imaging.

What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Several symptoms can result depending on the extent of damage and severity of the injury. The most common reported symptoms are:

  1. Pain and stiffness of the neck
  2. Headache
  3. Dizzines
  4. Shoulder Pain

Other less common symptoms include numbness and tingling in the arms of hands, visual or auditory disturbances, jaw pain, anxiety, depression and even trouble speaking or swallowing.

Treatment of Whiplash by Physiotherapists, Chiropractors and Massage Therapists

Generally, those who have been in a motor vehicle accident or experienced significant trauma should be taken to the hospital or see their family doctor or a Sports Medicine doctor soon after for medical examination and possible an X-Ray to rule out any serious injury.

Our Physiotherapists, Chiropractors and Massage therapists at Rebalance Sports Medicine are highly trained and experienced in the treatment of whiplash. It is well researched that early intervention leads to optimal outcomes. Interventions and treatment strategies can include education, individualized exercises, manual therapy, modalities and acupuncture or dry needling. It is important that you find a reputable clinic that offers these services working together to personalize your program and maximize your recovery.

Best Exercises to Help with Whiplash?

whiplash injury treatmentBefore starting exercises to help with your whiplash, it is important that you seek an assessment with a Physiotherapist and or Chiropractor to ensure your exercise program and treatment is matched to your level of injury and stage of healing. In the first few days after having whiplash it is important that you pay attention to your symptoms. Try to return to your daily activities early but balance it with rest using pain as your guide. Start with gentle neck range of motion (ROM) exercises in a pain free range.

  1. Turn your head left to right
  2. Bring your ears to your shoulder
  3. Bring your chin towards your chest
  4. Look up towards the ceiling in a controlled fashion

Once the ROM exercises are tolerated and have been incorporated for a few days then you may try isometric neck strengthening exercises using pain as your guide. If you are feeling pain during the exercise scale it back.

As your pain settles your exercise program should progress to match with more advanced neck stabilization, strengthening, core training and even Clinical Pilates if recommended by your physiotherapist.

What to Avoid After a Whiplash Injury?

It is well documented that stabilization ie. Use of a neck collar or too much rest early on is detrimental to progress. In severe cases, it may need to occur for 2-3 days but should be supplemented with daily exercises. In most cases AVOID too much rest. Your tissue requires stress of some force to stimulate the natural healing processes. Your will need to listen closely to your body and balance the right amount of rest with activity. In the initial stages avoid quick movements, or large painful motions with your neck.

How Can You Treat Whiplash at Home?

Whiplash is a complex injury and is best treated by professionals. That being said in the first 2-3 days ice and anti-inflammatory medication can be helpful with the balance of rest and movement.

As symptoms improve you can apply heat to the strained muscles and start a gentle exercise program. Exercises should be added gradually and should start from easiest and most basic movements.

  1. ROM Exercises
  2. Gentle Isometric Exercises
  3. Neck Stabilization Exercises
  4. Should and Upper Back Strengthening
  5. Full Body Functional Movements

If you have not experienced relief in 2 weeks it is best to consult with a medical professional be it a Sports Medicine doctor, Physiotherapist, Chiropractor and/or massage therapist.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Whiplash?

Recovery time is dependent on many factors. These include the type of tissue injured and the amount of damage, the ability for you to modify your lifestyle and the type of tasks/sport you want to return to.

Normal soft tissue healing time is 6 to 8 weeks (if the inflammation was managed appropriately early on in the process) and this does not include the time it takes to build up endurance, stability, strength and motor control patterns For this reason, seeking early treatment is highly recommended.

If you think you have whiplash, contact us today and we will get you on the road to recovery.

Heather Imrie, FCAMPT Physiotherapist

Heather Imrie is a FCAMPT physiotherapist practicing at Rebalance Sports Medicine in downtown Toronto.

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Yonge & AdelaideRebalance Clinic Yonge Adelaide
110 Yonge Street Suite 905
Toronto, ON M5C 1T4
T: (416) 777-9999
E: [email protected]
University & KingRebalance Clinic University King
155 University Avenue Suite 303
Toronto, ON M5H 3B7
T: (416) 306-1111
E: [email protected]

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