Whiplash or Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD), describes a range of injuries to the neck as a result of a sudden acceleration and then deceleration of the head. This almost always occurs as a result of a car accident but can also occur as a result of an impact injury in sport.
What Is It
When the head is thrown backwards it results in excessive compression of the small joints (facet joints) on the side of the neck, resulting in damage and irritation to the joint surface, leading to pain with movement and compression of the joints. When the head is thrown forward, the soft tissue surrounding the joints of the neck become stretched resulting in strain and damage to this tissue.
Symptoms may be experienced immediately but often develop after a day and can include:
- Pain and aching into the neck back and shoulders.
- Pain may be with some or all movements of the neck and back.
- Headache, visual disturbance or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Pins and needles or referral of pain into the arms.
In the event of significant injury, x-ray and assessment with a doctor are encouraged to rule out fracture or significant damage to the structures of the neck. Once this has been eliminated, initial management includes rest and avoidance of aggravating activities to allow the damage tissue to settle. Heat and anti-inflammatory medication are generally quite useful in management of symptoms. Gentle manual therapy and range of motion exercises are commenced with your physio to begin to restore movement of the neck.
As the injury settles the next phase of management involves stronger manual therapy and exercise with your physio to break up scar tissue and restore normal tissue and joint mechanics. As a result of the injury, the stabilising muscles of the neck and shoulder have generally been inhibited or switched off. In order to restore normal movement patterns and prevent ongoing symptoms, your physio will generally need to prescribe a range of conditioning exercises for these muscles.