Many people wrongly believe that whiplash is an injury caused solely by high-speed car and road traffic accidents. Few people understand the opportunity for therapeutic intervention to enable recovery.
What causes whiplash?
Whiplash can be caused through road traffic accidents, trauma, sports, abuse and even amusement park rides. Although whiplash is not exclusively caused by road traffic accidents, it does remain the most common cause of whiplash. Contrary to belief, an individual does not have to be in a high-speed collision to have a whiplash, in fact, research has shown whiplash can occur at as low as 6mph.
What is whiplash?
So, what is a whiplash and why is it a concern? Whiplash is essentially a collision which causes an acceleration-deceleration-acceleration force, particularly, of the head. Unfortunately, these forces take place to fast for the muscles to handle and thus, results in microtraumas (tears of the muscles around the neck) and macrotrauma (brainstem death). As well as the head following a forward-backwards-forwards movement, the brain also follows the same pattern (known as a coupe contra coupe) which can result in very typical symptoms such as dizziness, migraines, headaches, concussions, cervicogenic headache, sickness amongst others.
Furthermore, when assessing the severity of a whiplash the direction of being hit, head rest position, car make and model, steering wheel position, size of the vehicle and seatbelt safety can all have a significant impact on the outcome on a whiplash severity. This is because, the direction which you are being hit from can (most of the time) indicate the speed of the car, as being hit from the front or side, the car is usually at a faster speed. Similarly, the size, make and model of a car are able to determine the protection the car provides as certain models have better ‘crumple zones’ and security for collisions compared to others.
How can a physiotherapist help with whiplash?
There is clear evidence in the literature that musculoskeletal physiotherapists are able to use techniques such as manual therapy, exercise intervention and education have substantially improved patient symptoms. It is known that if physiotherapy is not undertaken then symptoms predominantly can proliferate into new/worse presentations, creating implications such as chronic headaches, dizziness, back pain, neck pain, mobility issues, depression, anxiety and psychological stress.