One of the very common conditions that is treated at Siskiyou Physical Therapy is whiplash associated disorder or “whiplash”. The most common cause of whiplash is a motor vehicle accident but it can occur from any accident where the head is thrown from hyperextension to hyperflexion. The exact structures that are affected is variable but often the muscle and ligaments in front of the neck are injured. With this condition the body responds to the trauma by tightening the muscles and upper shoulders. This protective response can become a problem in and of itself. The tight muscles can lead to muscle spasms, range of motion problems and headaches. Patients often report that after the accident they have difficulty with turning their heads, sleeping and tolerating positions for prolonged periods.
The real concern with whiplash is that this acute pain becomes a chronic problem. Often patients report that the pain doesn’t begin for a day or two after the accident. It is very important that you seek medical attention if you experience vertigo, have numbness or tingling down your arms or are nauseous. If your neck begins to tighten up, the sooner you seek help the easier it will be to deal with the problems.
Advice for after a traumatic neck injury:
1: Seek medical care. Often it is important to rule out serious complications from an accident. Also, the sooner you deal with muscle spasm and tightening the easier it will be to deal with the symptoms.
2: Do not allow your neck to stiffen up. It is important that you do not allow your neck to stiffen up on you too much. In fact it may be more difficult to regain you range of motion if you do not keep your neck loose. That being said if you experience extreme pain or numbness/tingling with motion, move through a smaller motion.
3: Avoid prolonged positions. You will likely notice that no position is comfortable after an accident. In particular, prolonged sitting will likely make your neck more painful. unfortunately most of us have to sit quite a bit for our jobs. So get up as move/stretch often if you have to sit for greater than one hour.
The delicate thing about whiplash syndrome is that it is tricky to know the right amount and types of activity to do after an accident. I think that this is where a physical therapist can be invaluable to speeding up recovery time and preventing your problems from becoming chronic. If you need help, seek it out and do not let your problems become chronic. We regularly treat patients with all type of neck pain after accidents and it would be our pleasure to help you.
Jon Hill, DPT, Licensed Physical Therapist with Siskiyou Physical Therapy
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