It often occurs after rear-end car collisions, but it can also result from roller coasters or sports injuries. Treatment should begin soon after the accident.
The treatment methods for whiplash have changed in the last decade, as doctors have moved away from using neck braces toward prescribing physical therapy. Read more to learn how to use physical therapy to recover from whiplash.
Method 1 of 2: General Whiplash Treatment
1. Seek medical attention immediately after a whiplash injury. Whiplash is usually caused by a car crash or other accident, so there is a possibility that the structures of the spine are affected. Your doctor may prescribe tests, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), in order to view the structures and rule out spinal fracture or disc herniation.
2. Take anti-inflammatories after your accident, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, often help to relieve swelling.
3. Do not simply treat whiplash with a foam collar and muscle-relaxers. Thanks to a number of medical studies, it has shown that the once-traditional method of treating whiplash, prescribing a stiff, foam collar to inhibit movement, can cause muscles to atrophy and prolong pain. People who are active and go to physical therapy may experience more pain at first, but they are thought to recover better in the long-term.
4. Regain your normal physical activity level as soon as possible after injury. Actively moving the muscles increases circulation, heals inflamed nerves and helps to prevent long-term loss of muscle function. Despite the pain, studies suggest you should try to avoid sick-leave and bed rest, if possible.
5. Avoid holding your head and neck in an unnatural manner. Many people start overarching their neck (hyperlordosis) to avoid pain, which can cause muscle tension and pain in other muscles in the back and neck. Studies show that physical therapy treatment with a resistance band in the first few days or weeks after the accident can help to avoid this.
Method 2 of 2: Whiplash Physical Therapy
1. Ask for a physical therapy prescription from your doctor. With a prescription, physical therapy is usually covered by a private insurance company. Ask your doctor for a few recommendations of qualified physical therapists, so that you can find one that is covered by your insurance plan.
Many private insurance companies set a limit on how many physical therapy sessions they will cover. Call your insurance company to inquire about your benefits. If you do not have insurance, call the physical therapy office to inquire about discounts.
2. Undergo an evaluation with your physical therapist. During the first session, the main goal will be to assess your physical condition, pain level and level of disability. Discuss a treatment schedule with your physical therapist.
3. Try a number of modalities while you are in the physical therapy sessions. Most physical therapists use a combination of treatment procedures. The following treatments have been shown to be effective in treating whiplash:
– Begin a training regime with resistance bands. These rubber bands allow you to do light strength training on your neck and shoulder muscles. You may need to purchase a set of bands in order to continue your treatment at home. Make sure you have proper form before trying a resistance band routine at home.
– Learn stretches. The muscles in your neck may spasm. One of the ways to treat this is to learn effective neck stretches. It is important to stretch often, but avoid stretching your muscles too far. Ask your physical therapist to give you pictures and descriptions of prescribed stretches.
– Do range of motion exercises. The physical therapist will ask you to perform them to achieve normal range of motion again. Ask for diagrams and descriptions.
– Start treatment with a multi-cervical unit. This fairly-new type of machine allows a whiplash patient to sit in a machine and attach their head to a small set of weights. With very small weights, the patient can move their neck as instructed by the physical therapist, in order to strengthen the 11 different muscles in the neck.
– Use ice to sooth nerves and muscles. This should be used in 5 to 10-minute intervals, with an ice pack or an ice massage.
– Explore ultrasound and massage treatments. Most physical therapists can often relieve neck pain through heat and stimulation with an ultrasound machine. They usually apply a gel and then move an ultrasound wand across your neck. They may also use manual manipulation, such as massage.
4. Begin a physical therapy regime at home. This may be necessary for 2 weeks to 6 months after the accident. This routine usually includes stretching, resistance band exercises, range of motion exercises and icing.
The therapist may also recommend you use moist heat, such as a microwaveable rice bag or hot towel, to loosen up muscles before you perform resistance band or range of motion exercises.
For similar articles, read Physiotherapy.