By Antony Egizi, DPT, Clinic Manager at ApexNetwork Physical Therapy St. Louis
It is that time of year again. Soon the snow and ice will be falling and covering the roadways, sidewalks, and stairs. Car accidents and falls will happen but what to do afterwards is always a blur for many people. The effects of whiplash can be very painful and debilitating.
With a quick search on the internet, you can find symptoms of whiplash which can include pain (neck, shoulders, low back), stiffness, numbness and tingling, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, sleep disturbances, or fatigue. These symptoms result from damage to the joints, ligaments, and muscles along the entirety of the spine. Symptoms can manifest immediately or even up to a couple of days later.
Initially, the acute inflammatory process takes over causing decreased range of motion, pain, and swelling in the joints and tissues. Physical Therapy modalities such as ice, ultrasound, gentle massage, and electrical stimulation can provide calming relief to the initial pain and inflammation caused by whiplash. Additionally, starting gentle range of motion exercises such as rotation and side bending can help to keep range of motion free and reduce muscle guarding.
When the acute stage is over after about seven days the next stage is the sub-acute stage. At this point, muscle stiffness is at its highest. Physical Therapy modalities used during the acute phase are still appropriate. Stretching, manual therapy, and light strengthening are introduced at this time. The goal is to get those muscles working as normally as possible to provide as much range of motion as possible and hopefully reduce debility.
After two weeks the chronic stage of healing starts. All above treatments are still being used, but the goal at this time is to return the person to full normal daily function. During this phase increasing intensity of stretching, strengthening, and manual therapy to improve range of motion and flexibility is the primary treatment focus.
When taking average tissue healing time into account, a timeframe of 4-6 weeks for muscular injuries and 8-12 weeks for other soft tissue injuries, it can be frustrating. The length of healing will vary person to person, but returning to full function is the primary goal for Physical Therapy.
What is important to know is that Physical Therapy can have an immediate impact on the healing of whiplash. Whether you are coming from the Emergency Room or your Primary Care Physician, a prescription for Physical Therapy will help to calm your symptoms as well as help to more quickly improve your function.