Rehabilitation for Whiplash

Whiplash is a common condition that occurs when a sudden backwards-forwards motion of the head causes muscles and ligaments of the neck to move beyond their normal range of motion. Whiplash injuries are frequently associated with vehicular accidents and contact sports. No single treatment has proven effective for all whiplash injuries, but there are many viable options available. The first treatment for a whiplash injury is usually the application of ice for 24 hours. After that, passive treatments, which are administered by physicians or other medical professionals and do not require patient participation, are normally used. Passive therapy is designed not only to relieve pain and difficulties with mobility, but to help patients heal sufficiently to engage in the active exercises that will lead to full rehabilitation.

The cervical collars previously in common usage to immobilize the neck are now considered ineffective and possibly dangerous, particularly if used for any length of time, since they may cause muscles to atrophy.

Passive Rehabilitation for Whiplash

For many patients, applying alternating ice and heat, taking anti-inflammatory pain medication and doing gentle exercises are enough to facilitate recovery from a whiplash injury. In such cases, the pain and stiffness usually resolves within 4 to 6 weeks. For many others, however, professional treatment may be necessary. Effective passive treatments for whiplash by professional therapists include:

  • Deep tissue massage
  • Heat therapy
  • Cold therapy
  • Ultrasound
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Corticosteroid injections

Deep tissue massage, ultrasound, and heat therapy work to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the damaged tissues, reducing stiffness and cramping. Cold therapy reduces inflammation and pain. TENS emits electrical pulses to suppress pain signals to the brain and also encourages the body to produce higher levels of endorphins. Corticosteroid injections reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Active Rehabilitation for Whiplash

Once a patient is ready to participate in active physical therapy, the therapist provides guidance through a series of exercises. These exercises are arranged to assist the patient in improving both strength and range of motion. Each therapy program is individualized according to the age, medical condition and particular needs of the patient.

The physical therapist also helps the patient to strengthen core muscles and to make postural and movement corrections as necessary. Small changes to habitual motions can keep the body more flexible and prevent further injury.

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