Whiplash is an acceleration-deceleration mechanism of energy transfer to the neck. It may result from rear end or side-impact motor vehicle collisions but can also occur during diving and other mishaps. In Australia, 20% of all motor vehicle accidents result in whiplash associated disorders. Research has shown the recovery period is highly variable, however the majority of individuals recover within weeks to months.
Symptoms of whiplash include neck pain and stiffness which can refer down the arm. Headaches, unsteadiness and dizziness are also possible symptoms.
Your Physiotherapist will classify your whiplash injury using the Quebec Task Force classification.
- Grade 1- neck pain, stiffness or tenderness only. No physical signs
- Grade 2- musculoskeletal signs with reduced range of motion and point tenderness
- Grade 3- musculoskeletal signs and neurological signs – decreased or absent deep tendon reflexes, muscle weakness, sensory deficits
- Grade 4- neck complaint and fracture or dislocation
Your Physiotherapy management for whiplash will follow the Australian guidelines.
Firstly, your Physiotherapist will determine if you require an X-Ray by applying the Canadian C-Spine rule. If no X-ray is required your Physiotherapist will conduct an examination and define your whiplash grade. You may also be asked to complete the Neck Disability Index Questionnaire to assess the severity of your symptoms. Your Physiotherapist will educate you on activities to complete to optimise your recovery and prescribe neck specific exercises to improve your range of motion and strength. Manual therapy treatments may also be performed to alleviate pain.
Once the initial pain has settled, your rehabilitation program will begin. Supervised exercise rehabilitation by a Physiotherapist is proven to assist with motor control impairments and strength deficits in those with whiplash associated disorders. Your Physiotherapist will regularly reassess your severity of symptoms every three weeks through the NDI questionnaire and may include a psychological questionnaire known as the Impact of Events Scale to monitor distress. The goals of the rehabilitation program are to improve muscle performance, awareness and control in the neck and thoracic spine. Physiotherapy will also address your ergonomics, posture and sleep as these factors can influence your recovery.