Rehabilitation for Whiplash
Whiplash is a common condition that occurs when a sudden backward-forward motion of the head causes muscles and ligaments in the neck to move beyond their normal range of motion. Whiplash injuries are frequently associated with vehicular accidents and contact sports. No single treatment has proven effective for all whiplash injuries, but there are many viable treatment options available. The first treatment for a whiplash injury is usually the application of ice for 24 hours. After that, passive treatments, which are administered by physicians or other medical professionals, and do not require patient participation, are typically used. Passive therapy is designed not only to relieve pain and improve mobility, but to help patients heal enough so that they can engage in the active exercises that will lead to full rehabilitation.
The cervical collars once used to immobilize the neck are now considered ineffective and, possibly, dangerous, particularly if used for any length of time, because they can cause muscles to atrophy.
For many patients, applying alternating ice and heat, taking anti-inflammatory pain medication and doing gentle exercises are enough to facilitate recovery from a whiplash injury. In such cases, pain and stiffness usually resolve within 4 to 6 weeks. For many others, however, professional treatment is necessary. Effective passive treatments for whiplash performed by professional therapists include the following:
- Deep-tissue massage
- Heat therapy
- Cold therapy
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- Corticosteroid injections
Deep-tissue massage, ultrasound and heat therapy increase the flow of blood and oxygen to damaged tissue, reducing stiffness and cramping. Cold therapy reduces inflammation and pain. TENS emits electrical pulses to suppress pain signals to the brain, and encourages the body to produce higher levels of endorphins. Corticosteroid injections reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
Once a patient is ready to participate in active physical therapy, the therapist provides guidance through a series of exercises, which are designed to assist the patient in improving both strength and range of motion. Each therapy program is individualized according to the age, medical condition and particular needs of the patient.
The physical therapist also helps the patient to strengthen core muscles, and make postural and movement corrections as necessary. Small changes to habitual motions can keep the body more flexible, and prevent further injury.