Health blog

Whiplash: 9 symptoms to look for

June 18th, 2024
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Imagine you’re driving down the road and suddenly you get rear-ended. The jolt of the impact throws you forward, making your head whip violently back and forth like you’re a rag doll. The accident can leave your neck screaming in protest. This pain is caused by whiplash, a common injury that can wreak havoc on your entire body, not just your neck. Car accidents are common culprits for whiplash injuries. However, a bad fall, a high-impact sport or even a crazy roller coaster ride at an amusement park can all have the potential of triggering whiplash.

No matter the cause, whiplash can leave you feeling stiff and sore. The good news is that whiplash has solutions. With the right care and some physical therapy, you can get back to doing your activities with less pain and your head held high.

Symptoms of whiplash

How do you know if you might have whiplash? Key whiplash symptoms to look out for can include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness.
  • Headaches.
  • Dizziness.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Tenderness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Tinnitus.

Understanding whiplash severity

Whiplash symptoms can vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury. The Quebec Task Force Classification of Whiplash-Associated Disorders is a commonly used system to assess whiplash and help guide treatment decisions. The classifications of whiplash severity are:

  • Grade 0: No pain or symptoms, no physical signs of injury.
  • Grade I: Neck pain, stiffness or tenderness with no physical signs.
  • Grade II: Neck pain with additional physical signs like tenderness or decreased range of motion.
  • Grade III: Neck pain with neurological signs such as decreased reflexes, weakness, or sensory deficits.
  • Grade IV: Neck pain with a fracture or dislocation (this is the most severe grade and requires immediate medical attention).

It’s important to remember that this is a general classification system and should be used by a health care professional. Consulting a health care professional for proper diagnosis and treatment is crucial regardless of your suspected severity of your injury.

How long does whiplash last?

The good news is that most whiplash injuries can get better on their own within a few weeks to a few months. However, some people may experience symptoms for a longer time. In severe cases, people can experience symptoms for several years. It’s essential to seek medical attention to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. It’s especially important to seek care if you have severe symptoms or don’t see any improvement. 

How long does whiplash last?

While whiplash can heal well with proper care, ignoring it can lead to some complications. Potential risks of untreated whiplash include:

  • Chronic pain.
  • Reduced mobility.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Headaches. 

Physical therapy techniques for whiplash

Luckily, there are steps you can take to help your whiplash heal and prevent complications. An excellent option to help whiplash includes physical therapy. Some techniques your physical therapist may use to help you in your recovery include:

  • Manual therapy — Your physical therapist will use their hands to gently knead and stretch the tight muscles in your neck and shoulders. This can help improve your flexibility, reduce pain and boost circulation to the area. Manual therapy techniques can help you loosen up and feel better. 
  • Electrical stimulation — Electrical stimulation uses low-level electrical currents delivered through probes that are placed on the skin near the injured muscles. This gentle stimulation can help reduce pain, improve muscle function and promote tissue healing. It can feel like a light tingling sensation that can help your muscles relax and recover. 
  • Therapeutic exercises — Physical therapy exercises are a cornerstone of recovery. Your physical therapist will create a personalized exercise program with specific exercises designed to help strengthen your neck muscles, improve your range of motion through stretches and improve your posture. These exercises can help you stand tall and hold your head high without feeling tension. 
  • Dry needling Dry needling is a technique that involves manually inserting thin, sterile needles into trigger points. Trigger points are tight knots in your muscles that can cause pain and dysfunction. Your physical therapist will target specific trigger points in your neck and shoulders to help relieve pain and improve muscle function. 
  • Aquatic therapy Exercises performed in a warm pool can be especially beneficial for whiplash recovery. The buoyancy of the water can help reduce stress on your joints. It also allows for a broader range of exercises with less pain. 

These are only a few examples of physical therapy techniques your physical therapist may use to help you in your recovery. Your specific treatment plan will be tailored to your individual needs and the severity of your whiplash injury. By following your physical therapist’s recommendations and actively participating in your treatment plan, you can experience improvement and get back to your favorite activities. 

Physical therapy exercises for whiplash

Your physical therapist may teach and supervise you through exercises to help your whiplash recovery. It’s important to follow your physical therapist’s instructions on how to do these exercises and the number of repetitions to help ensure your safety. Examples of exercises for whiplash include:

  • Prone cobra stretch — This exercise can help strengthen the deep neck muscles that support your head.
  • Lie comfortably on your stomach with a towel cushioning your forehead.
  • Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together. Lift your hands slightly off the floor for a moment.
  • Maintain a flat back and press your forehead up just an inch. Keep your gaze down.
  • Hold this stretch for a few moments and then slowly lower back down.
  • Neck isometrics — These exercises can help strengthen neck muscles by creating tension without movement. 
  • Sit or stand tall with your head facing forward.
  • Gently press your forehead against your palm as if you’re trying to push your head down. Resist the movement with your neck muscles.
  • Hold for a few seconds and then relax.
  • Chin tucks — These stretches gently lengthen the muscles in the front of your neck.
  • Stand or sit tall with your back straight. 
  • Slowly tuck your chin down toward your chest as if making a double chin. Be careful to avoid straining. 
  • Hold for a few seconds and then slowly return to your starting position.
  • Side bends — These stretches can help improve side-to-side movement in your neck.
  • Sit or stand tall with your head facing forward.
  • Slowly tilt your ear down toward your shoulder, stretching the side of your neck.
  • Hold for several seconds and then return to your starting position.
  • Repeat the stretch on the other side.
  • Wall back slide — This exercise can help promote proper spinal alignment and strengthen core muscles that help support your posture.
  • Stand with your back against a wall with your heels a few inches away from the wall.
  • Press your lower back flat against the wall and slowly slide upward until your shoulders are touching the wall.
  • Hold for a few seconds and then slowly slide back down.

Your physical therapist will tailor a program to meet your specific needs. It’s important to do these exercises gently and avoid any pain. If you experience any discomfort, stop the exercise and let your physical therapist know. 

How long does physical therapy for whiplash last?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how long physical therapy for whiplash can take. The duration depends on several factors, including:

  • Severity of your injury.
  • Your overall health.
  • How quickly you start treatment. 

The total number of physical therapy sessions can vary depending on your individual progress. It’s important to listen to your body and follow your physical therapist’s guidance through your recovery process. They’ll tailor your program to specifically meet your needs and monitor your progress. They can then adjust your treatment plan as needed. 

Rehab Access is here to be your partner in whiplash injury recovery

At Rehab Access Physical Therapy, we understand the unique challenges whiplash can present. Our expert physical therapists take a comprehensive approach to your care. The road to recovery from whiplash doesn’t have to be a lonely one. Our team is here to help guide you with compassionate care every step of the way. With our expertise and your commitment to your treatment plan, you can get back to doing the activities that bring you joy. 

Call us or request an appointment today to take control of your whiplash recovery.

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