Effective Treatment For Whiplash

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by Joon Nah  PT

Whiplash injuries have been around since people have been driving and it’s one of the most common injuries resulting in millions of dollars in health care costs.   Yet effectively treating whiplash seems to be elusive, as visiting 10 different rehabilitation clinics can result in 10 different treatment experiences.  Frustruating!

The issue partially lies in the science, as we don’t know exactly what happens with whiplash.  However we are now more confident that most of these are injuries to soft-tissue (muscles and possibly ligaments) through a forced eccentric lengthening (muscles made to stretch while they are trying to contract).

Effective treatment of any injury requires an excellent assessment.  This is of critical importance with whiplash associated disorder (WAD) as there are infrequent but serious complications that can arise.  In some of these special cases, testing such as X-rays, or MRIs can be helpful, however in the vast majority of incidents they are a waste of time and money.

So what do we know about effective physiotherapy treatment?  Evidence supports exercise (active movement/stretching/postural exercises), manual therapy (joint mobilizations and manipulations), and early movement.  Research (and our own clinical experience) doesn’t support the use of electro-therapeutic modalities (such as electrical muscle stimulation and magnetic therapy), and neck braces or supports.

Our physiotherapists will perform a detailed exam and use best practice treatments that work.  Each individual has a WAD injury that is specific to them and their lifestyle therefore treatment planning has to correspond to this.

One bit of advice.  Keep it moving.  Patients who are pain-avoidant and protective tend to take longer to improve and have higher risks of chronic problems.  It might be a little sore to stretch your neck now, but it will pay off in the long run.