What is Whiplash

Whiplash occurs following an acceleration and deceleration event related to a sudden distortion of the neck which typically occurs in a motor vehicle accident. Whiplash can also occur through other mechanisms such as getting hit with a ball to the head, bungee jumping or a fall.

During a motor vehicle accident the neck moves from its resting position into a retracted  ‘S’ shape then into an extended ‘C’ shape position before coming back into its resting normal position again all within less than 1 second! As this process occurs there can be several areas which may be injured and be a source of pain including joints, discs, ligaments, joint capsules, tendons, neural tissue, blood vessels and bony structures.

What are Whiplash Associated Disorder’s (WAD’s)?

Whiplash associated disorders is a term applied to the variety of symptoms arising from a whiplash injury.

What are the symptoms of whiplash associated disorders?

Symptoms of whiplash associated disorder’s may occur immediately or several hours to days and sometimes even weeks following the injury. Symptoms of whiplash can include:

  • Neck pain (MOST COMMON)
  •  Pain in the shoulder blades
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive deficits such as memory loss
  • Back pain
  • Weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

What can cause the pain to spread?

Whiplash associated disorder and the resulting symptoms are complex in nature but we will try our best to explain why pain in whiplash can spread.

Our peripheral nervous system has a number of different nerves which all have a different function and carry different impulses. Some of these nerves are responsible for carrying signals of touch and pressure while others carry signals about pain, sensation and movement. These nerves travel all the way from our hands and feet to our spinal cord and meet at the same location as some of the nerves that are responsible for providing feedback about the joint and ligaments around our spine.  As a result, sometimes when our neck or the structures around our neck are injured it can cause the pain to be ‘referred’ to other locations.

To make matters more complex, following injury of a tissue, the nerves which were previously only responsible for carrying information about pressures and temperature may start processing pain signals and ‘behave’ as pain sensitive nerve fibers. One of the reasons this process occurs is as a result of the chemical irritants and other inflammatory markers which are released following the injury.

Our goal Physiotherapy Cubed is to unwind all these changes through evidence based treatment techniques and individualised assessment and treatment. 

What is the difference between persistent neck pain and whiplash?

When we experience persistent neck pain the main symptoms which we experience is pain although there can sometimes be other associated symptoms such as headaches, pain into the hands and arms, pain into the shoulder blade and pins and needles or numbness into the hands and arms.

With whiplash associated disorders as well as having neck pain, we commonly experience a myriad of other symptoms as well which have been outline above.

Interestingly, recent research has identified that there is an underlying biological difference between persistent neck pain and whiplash associated disorders as outlined below:

  • Individuals with whiplash usually also present with cold hyperalgesia where as individuals with persistent neck pain do not present with this phenomena. This means that at a certain temperature individuals with whiplash associated disorders would perceive that temperature to be painful where as individuals with persistent neck pain would not have this perception. So if you feel that the cold makes your pain worse, then there may be underlying reason for this occurrence!

What is the management for whiplash?

At Physiotherapy Cubed our skilled practitioners take time to assess your condition and provide an individualised home based physiotherapy treatment based on your needs at the comfort of your own home.

The first step in our management is to assess whether you are required to a wear a collar. In the majority of whiplash cases collars are not advised however in some instances collars are critical and extremely necessary.

After a thorough assessment is completed, we will explain to you the underlying nature of your problems and aim to reduce the acute nature of your symptoms using various treatment techniques. We will then identify the goals of therapy, in collaboration with yourself and work together to reach these goals.

Our treatments techniques include:

  • Advice and education regarding posture, appropriate food to consume and other self management techniques
  • Joint mobilisation
  • Muscle trigger point/ stretches
  • Electrotherapy
  • Strengthening and stretching muscles
  • Motor control exercises
  • Joint positioning exercises
  • Home exercise program
  • Dry needling

Many of our treatments will be complemented with exercises and self management practices which you will need to continue at home. In some cases working with other healthcare practitioners will also be necessary to help fix the underlying problems.

If you are experiencing headaches or symptoms around your jaw you may also like to refer to information about these conditions on our website.

One of the best treatment strategies for the treatment of whiplash and whiplash associated disorder is to complete appropriate exercises.