Whiplash is an injury which results from sudden acceleration-deceleration forces on the neck. Whiplash is a broad term that describes injury to muscles, joints, bones, ligaments, discs and nerves.

What Causes Whiplash?

Whiplash generally results from a traumatic event involving sudden acceleration-deceleration forces. The most common cause for whiplash is a motor vehicle accident (MVA). Other potential causes may sports-related trauma (being hit in hockey, football or soccer), or slip and falls at home.

What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Symptoms and severity of whiplash can vary significantly between people. The most commonly reported symptom is neck pain or stiffness. This can occur anywhere from immediately after the injury to several days later.

Symptoms may include:

  • Stiffness or neck pain
  • Headache
  • Shoulder, midback or arm pain
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Visual disturbances
  • Hearing difficulties
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Difficulty concentrating

How is Whiplash Diagnosed?

Whiplash is a clinical diagnosis based of your history of injury and clinical testing. Physiotherapists may work with your family doctor (GP to order radiological tests to identify injury to specific structures such as a fractured vertebra or disc injury.

Red Flags

Due to to traumatic nature of a whiplash injury; there is a risk of more urgent or sinister injuries which need to be ruled out before undergoing treatment. Your physiotherapist and GP are trained to detect anything abnormal which warrants further investigation, however please notify a health professional if you have (or develop) any of the following:

  • Bilateral pins and needles
  • Gait disturbances
  • Progressively worsening weakness or sensation problems
  • Pins and needles or numbness in the face
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Drop attacks/fainting
  • Bladder or bowel problems

Whiplash Treatment

Research shows the most effective way to treat your injury is with a combination of treatment options which are tailored to your individual dysfunctions - at Physiohaus, we provide 1:1 care to all of our patients. Research evidence supports various treatment approaches. Your best treatment direction should be guided by an expert in the rehabilitation such as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist who specializes in neck injuries or whiplash.
Potential treatment methods for whiplash include:

  • Active treatment guided by your physiotherapist.
  • Exercise to encourage flexibility, strength and good posture.
  • Fine neck muscle and proprioception retraining programs guided by a physiotherapist.
  • Acupuncture or dry needling for pain relief.
  • Joint mobilization or manipulation to loosen stiff joints.
  • Medication to assist your pain, muscle tension or to assist you psychologically.
  • Psychologist advice.
  • Vestibular rehabilitation if dizziness is one of your symptoms.
  • Soft tissue massage may assist for short-term muscle tension relief.
  • Electrotherapy for pain relief and to assist early healing.
  • Jaw pain (TMD)

What To Expect

Most whiplash patients will start to feel better within a few weeks of the injury. Your physiotherapy treatment will aim to:
  • Reduce neck pain, headaches and inflammation.
  • Normalize joint range of motion.
  • Strengthen your neck muscles.
  • Strengthen your upper back muscles.
  • Improve your neck posture.
  • Normalize your muscle lengths and resting muscle tension.
  • Resolve any deficit in neural tissue movement
  • Improve your neck proprioception, fine motor control and balance
  • Improve your ability to cope with everyday activities, plus more stressful ones such as lifting.
  • Minimize your chance of future neck pain or disability.
We strongly suggest that you discuss your specific whiplash injury after a thorough examination from a physiotherapist who specializes in whiplash associated disorder (WAD).

Will you get better? Yes. However, whiplash injuries can take from a few days to several months to rehabilitate.

Just as the symptoms and severity of whiplash can vary from person to person, so can the recovery time. The good news is that research shows the large majority of whiplash sufferers recover with actively guided treatment.The Physiotherapy team at Physiohaus is trained with current research methods and is well suited to get you better.

There are many other factors which can impact on your recovery, including depression and trauma-related anxiety, so it is important to raise any additional issues with a qualified health professional to give yourself the best chance of recovery.

For more advice, please consult your doctor or physiotherapist. To book an appointment at Physiohaus, please call 519-204-4445 or use our online booking at physiohaus.ca