Advance Health Blog


Chris Goetz - Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Whiplash Injuries Respond Favorably to Physical Therapy

Goetz with CaptionThe term whiplash has often caused confusion because it is used interchangeably to describe the process which causes an injury and the pain caused by that injury. Whiplash is a traumatic event that causes the head to move suddenly, or extend, in one direction, usually past its normal range, and then back in the other direction, or flex, just as suddenly. This abrupt extension and flexion of the head beyond its usual range of motion can cause serious injury to the muscles, joints and the discs of the spine.

Whiplash happens most commonly when one automobile is struck from behind by another, but can also occur anytime an automobile comes to a violent stop by hitting something head-on. Suddenness is often a factor, finding victims unprepared for an impact and with their muscles relaxed, causing more intense force to be applied to the muscles, discs and joints. This relaxed state is the reason why whiplash can occur in a seemingly small accident. 

A whiplash injury manifests thru pain in the shoulders, neck or base of the skull. In most cases the ligaments in those areas have been strained and are inflamed and tender. The list of possible associated symptoms is long and their appearance is common:

  • Headaches
  • Shoulders, arms or back
  • Dizziness and fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Loss of concentration or memory
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability or depression 

In the majority of cases, and with proper treatment, whiplash patients can expect a full recovery within four to six months of the date of the injury. Unfortunately, for about 20% of patients this is not the case. Chronic whiplash pain is often seen in older patients and those who had a history of neck pain or headaches before the whiplash injury. In addition, patients who experienced a rotation of the head in their whiplash incident are more likely to encounter chronic pain.

For years the treatment of whiplash injuries has included the use of a neck collar along with bed rest and immobilization of the neck. However, studies have shown that the collar may, in fact, prolong symptoms or even encourage the condition to become chronic. It is believed that keeping the area immobilized prevents blood from flowing there and hinders the body's natural healing process.

A regimen of physical therapy, exercise, medication and chiropractic is the most effective treatment plan available. Physical therapy can help alleviate associated pain and will reduce swelling and tenderness in the muscles. Exercise involves strengthening exercises. Range of motion exercises should be performed often and begin as soon as the condition allows. Range of motion exercises will encourage mobility and have been shown to allow for a more rapid recovery. These exercises should be performed several times an hour. Medications prescribed for whiplash injury treatments include pain medications and anti-inflammatories. Chiropractic is most effective when there has been movement of the spinal discs.

As with any immobilizing injury, patients may develop psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression or anger about their condition. It is not uncommon for whiplash patients to receive psychological treatment in conjunction with their physical care. 

Although whiplash injuries can be quite serious and have a powerful impact on one's well being, it is important to remember that in most cases the patient will experience a full recovery. Diligence in keeping doctor and therapy appointments, as well as persistent exercise, will insure a rapid recovery.

Dr. Chris Goetz was an offensive lineman with the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets from 1990-1992. Having seen the benefits of therapy as he recuperated from his NFL injuries, he decided to enroll in Chiropractic Medicine school and dedicate himself to bringing relief and wellness to others. He has been Owner/Director of Advance Health Services of Miami since 1999.