How Does Physical Therapy Help with Neck Pain Caused by Whiplash?
Neck pain is one of the most common ailments that can result from an underlying condition or an injury. The soft tissues in the neck become strained or sprained from overuse or overextension, leading to neck pain. One such injury that affects the neck is whiplash.
Physical therapy is an effective treatment option for whiplash that helps restore proper function and movement in the affected soft tissues and promotes neck pain relief, Mission, TX.
What is Whiplash, and How Does It Occur?
Whiplash is an injury to the neck that occurs when the head suddenly moves backward and then forward with heavy force. This type of injury usually happens during rear-end car accidents or while playing contact sports like football or basketball.
Let’s discuss a few words about the anatomy of the neck.
Our neck is the upper part of the spine, consisting of seven square bones called cervical vertebrae. These bones, along with the ligaments, tendons, and muscles, form a protective structure surrounding the spinal cord. The neck supports the total weight of the head, allowing us to rotate, nod, or tilt our head and providing flexibility to move the head in all directions.
Whiplash is also termed as neck sprain or neck strain as the injury can strain the muscles and damage the soft tissues of the neck such as ligaments, tendons, and discs.
Whiplash is characterized by two separate injuries – the first one is the movement of the head and the neck in the backward direction that creates an excessive motion termed hyperextension that opens a joint. The other one is the sudden and fast reversal of that motion, known as hyperflexion.
The most common symptoms of whiplash are neck pain, stiffness, tenderness, and limited range of motion. The other symptoms include blurred vision, headache, pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms, numbness or tingling in the arms, dizziness, fatigue, memory and concentration issues, and difficulty sleeping.
Apart from rear-end car accidents and contact sports, whiplash injuries can also occur during falls, cycling accidents, physical abuse, or horseback riding accidents.
How Does Physical Therapy Help?
During the initial visit for whiplash treatment, physical therapists ask for the patients’ symptoms and conduct a physical examination by analyzing the range of motion in the neck and shoulders, movements that cause pain or an increase in pain, and tenderness in the neck, shoulders or back. Then they create a specialized treatment plan that includes both passive and active therapies to release the restricted neck muscles and promote neck pain relief, Mission, TX.
Passive physical therapy refers to the treatment performed on the patients by the practitioner in which the patients’ active involvement is not required. The passive therapies effective in treating neck pain caused by whiplash include,
1) Heat/Cold Therapy
Applying heat packs to the affected neck area increases blood circulation and brings more oxygen and nutrients to that area. It also eliminates waste products created by muscle spasms and enhances healing. Cold therapy minimizes blood circulation and decreases inflammation, neck pain, and muscle spasms caused by whiplash injury.
2) Massage Therapy
Massage is one of the most effective treatments for whiplash, in which the therapists use their hands to apply varying degrees of pressure and manipulate the soft tissues in the neck. The treatment increases circulation breaks up scar tissue, and loosens adhesions, thus increasing mobility and normal function, reducing muscle tension, and restoring full range of motion.
Physical therapists utilize different massage techniques to treat whiplash. Swedish massage improves muscle flexibility and reduces stress, trigger point therapy reduces shooting pain, and cross-fiber friction decreases scar tissue buildup.
3) Ultrasound Therapy
Ultrasound therapy uses sound waves to travel deep and address the soft tissues like muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments damaged by whiplash. The sound waves generate heat and friction in these tissues and enhance blood flow. This process starts the healing mechanism that minimizes neck pain, improves the flexibility of muscles and tendons, and regains the normal range of motion.
4) Electrical Stimulation
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS therapy is one of the powerful physical therapy modalities for treating whiplash when combined with exercises and hands-on treatment. The treatment sends electric impulses through electrodes attached to the painful neck area to stimulate the nerve cells to block pain signals transferred to the brain. This also helps in reducing muscle spasms and promoting neck pain relief, Mission, TX.
Active physical therapy refers to the patients’ active participation in performing exercises to improve strength and flexibility. Physical therapists suggest neck stretches to ease stiffness and increase flexibility in the neck muscles. Gentle range of motion exercises such as rotation and side bending will also help with whiplash neck injuries. They also recommend walking to enhance blood flow to the healing tissues and speed up recovery.
Whiplash is one of the most common causes of neck injuries which can result in chronic pain when left untreated. It is also not a good way to rest the affected neck for many days as it may lead to increased stiffness and weakness. Visiting physical therapists is the best idea as they can work with their patients to reduce symptoms and restore the normal range of motion, thus improving the quality of life.