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man suffering with whiplash

Physical Therapy For Whiplash

Whiplash. We have all heard this term and often associate it with a car accident. The truth is, there are a variety of ways in which one sustains a whiplash injury, such as when slipping/falling on the ground or riding a herky-jerky roller coaster. The most common cause of whiplash is still a rear-end collision during a motor vehicle accident.

Q: What happens with whiplash and why is it important to seek medical help? 

whiplash associated disorders injuries


A: Whiplash is a fast start-to-stop motion that creates a strong shearing force between the vertebrae in your neck. This stress often results in soft tissue damage of the ligaments that connect the vertebrae together, the tendons that attach to the bones, and the soft tissues such as the muscles and the discs which act as cushioning pads between the vertebrae.

Our spine is filled with nerve endings that are not only suited for initiating muscle movement/coordination, but our spine has specific nerve endings that are constantly receiving input from the adjacent environments. These nerve endings surround the vertebrae, ligaments, and tendons, and they act as highly calibrated sensors for movement, position, and speed of all of the mechanical components that make up your cervical spine. This change of movement is relayed back to your spinal cord. If the outside whiplash force is significant, your neck will feel the brunt of this trauma.

Common symptoms include headaches, neck stiffness, soreness deep into the joints, and inflammation due to the trauma. In extreme cases, concussions are also a possibility. A concussion occurs when the soft tissue lining your brain collides with the inside of your skull and bruises that part of your brain. This often leads to feelings of confusion, disorientation, and nausea. Depending on the severity of the whiplash, it could be a simple strain of the muscles, but could also be a more serious condition. Therefore it is very important to seek medical help for a deeper evaluation.

Q: How will I be evaluated? 

A: Typically, after a forceful whiplash event, you will see a medical provider such as an urgent care physician or your primary care doctor. They may recommend an x-ray to make sure that you didn’t fracture a vertebrae. If your physician believes that you are suffering from whiplash only (without a concussion) and your x-rays were clear of any fractures, often that physician will recommend physical therapy.

Q: What should I expect with physical therapy? 

A: Because there are so many anatomical components in your cervical spine that are affected following a whiplash event, it is important that you receive a very thorough evaluation by a physical therapist.

At SportsCare Physical Therapy, you will receive a complete assessment including neck range of motion screening, postural screening, joint/soft tissue assessment, and strength/stability testing of your spine. This screening process allows us to provide a patient-specific treatment plan focused on education, pain relief, and overall treatment utilizing both home exercises and outpatient clinic intervention.

The entire patient treatment plan is focused on reducing the pain/spasm cycle that is occurring in your neck. Proper exercises are needed to improve neck mobility, reduce pain and stabilize the neck. Manual therapy such as soft tissue mobilization and joint mobilization or manipulation is utilized to improve soft tissue mobility in the neck or improve joint mobility when the neck is painful and stiff. Other treatment options may include cold laser therapy, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and are often performed to reduce discomfort when the irritability of symptoms is high.

No matter what you are experiencing regarding whiplash, SportsCare Physical Therapy will tailor a custom treatment plan to meet your needs and get you back to living your life to its fullest.

If you have experienced whiplash and need physical therapy, contact SportsCare Physical Therapy to schedule an evaluation or request an appointment online.