You might expect hazards such as coughs, colds and falls to increase over the winter period, but the chances of suffering from whiplash injury is also higher as conditions get icy.

We treat an increasing number of whiplash cases at Petersfield Physio’s Liss practice during the winter and they can lead to more serious problems if ignored. So I thought I would take a look at this common injury as the bad weather seems to be determined to stay with us for a little longer.

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash injuries are caused by an unrestrained, rapid backward and forward movement to your head and neck, which stretches and tears muscles and tendons. It is often the result of a sudden change in speed (either acceleration or deceleration) during a traffic accident, or if you slip over. There is also an increased chance of a whiplash injury if you play contact sports such as rugby.

Fortunately, whiplash is not generally a life-threatening injury, but it can lead to long periods of partial disability and, if not properly treated, more serious and long-term problems.

Symptoms

Whiplash has a number of symptoms, some more debilitating than others. Depending on the severity of the injury, most will disappear after several weeks, or months.

Symptoms include:

  • Neck and shoulder pain, tenderness and stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Arm pains or weakness

Whiplash can also cause less expected problems:

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Jaw pain
  • Irritability
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Back pain

It can take several hours after the injury for symptoms to develop, but if you experience any of them, it’s important to see a doctor straight away. If not treated properly, whiplash can lead to more severe and chronic problems, including psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and insomnia (along with others).

Treatment

If an x-ray or MRI scan shows up a problem, you may be referred straight to a physiotherapist for exercises to heal your neck.

In the past, you might have had to wear a soft cervical collar for a number of weeks; however, recent studies have found that prolonged immobilisation actually slows healing. Instead, if there is no abnormal spine alignment, movement should be introduced to the spine as early as possible, otherwise there is a higher risk of developing chronic symptoms.

Avoid rotation exercises, rolling the head around, because this can lead to joint compression and more pain.

Instead, starting gently, try looking up and down, over the left and right shoulder and then cocking the head sideways towards each shoulder. Do this 10 times every hour within the first four days of the accident and it can really help to speed up the healing process. A physiotherapist also help with exercises tailored specifically to an injury.

There are also several actions you can take to reduce the pain of whiplash:

  • Icepacks can be used for the first few days after the injury to reduce swelling
  • Warm compresses can be used after a few days to sooth the pain
  • A supportive pillow can also help your neck to heal

Prevention is better than cure

Although whiplash is not life-threatening and can be relatively easy to treat, it’s important to try to prevent in the first place, so drive carefully and watch where you step if we get any more snow and ice.
If you have any questions about whiplash or need exercises to treat a whiplash injury, contact Petersfield Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic or ring us on 01730 267645.