Whiplash is most often thought of as an injury sustained during a car accident however it can occur in any situation which involves a sudden change of force. Whiplash is an injury to the neck that occurs following a sudden acceleration-deceleration force that causes unrestrained, rapid forward and backward movement of the head and neck. The muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues of the neck are moved quickly beyond their normal range of movement causing these tissues to become overstretched or sprained. These are supportive structures of the neck and when overstretched with resulting instability of the neck, the muscles surrounding the neck will tense to protect the head and attempt to regain stability. This causes pain, decreased range of motion, and tightness in the neck. The muscles may feel hard or knotted. Other symptoms include headaches, muscles spams, and pain radiating further down the back.
The first few days following an injury are the worst and depending on the severity of the injury can take months to recover. Generally, most injuries are pain free within 3 months.
In the early days after the injury it is important to start some simple and gentle exercises to get your neck and head moving. This is often best done lying down.
Applying ice to your neck can help to settle the inflammation in your muscles and the other tissues and using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can help manage the inflammatory process and reduce the pain. After 2-3 days heat will be more useful helping to relieve the pain in the muscles around the neck.
It is also important to start gentle stretching of the tight muscles combined with exercises to build the strength and improve the stability of the neck. It is best to start this slowly and build it progressively to gain full recovery.
Here are a few exercises to get you started – one stretch and a strengthening exercise.
Upper traps neck stretch
Place one hand behind your back and tilt your head sideways – away from that shoulder – until you feel a stretch down the side of your neck.
- Start in sitting or standing position.
- Place one hand behind your back and the other by your side.
- Tilt your head to the side so that your ear comes closer to the shoulder of the arm that is by your side and away from the arm behind your back.
- You should feel a stretch down the side of your neck.
- Hold this position for 20secs. Repeat x2 each side
Neck retractions to help build strength
Look straight ahead, tuck your chin in and lengthen the back of your neck.
- Start in a seated position or standing upright with your shoulders pulled back and down. Look straight forward.
- Tuck your chin keeping your head high, to make a double chin and lengthen the back of your neck. Keep looking straight ahead.
- Hold for 5 seconds x 3
Hope this helps, Deb