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Neck Pain & Whiplash

Physiotherapy for Neck Pain & Whiplash Associated Disorders / WAD in Edmonton

Physiotherapy for Neck Pain & Whiplash Associated Disorders / WAD in Edmonton

You were rear-ended. Maybe the accident didn’t really seem too serious at the time, but you’re left with some neck pain and whiplash. Or perhaps your teenage son plays football, and after a rough practice, he’s complaining of neck tightness and pain. Maybe you are one of Edmonton’s “weekend warriors,” and at Saturday’s game, you took a hit. Now you’re having trouble turning your head all the way, especially to one side.

Neck pain and whiplash associated disorders (WAD) have many causes, especially in car accidents and contact sports like boxing, martial arts, and football. Other causes include physical abuse where the victim is struck or shaken, horseback riding, collisions or falls when cycling, blows to the head with a heavy object or any fall when your head violently jerks backwards.

Whenever your body and head experience a quick start-stop movement, you may end up with whiplash.

Sometimes whiplash causes long-term pain or headaches for years after the initial injury. Estimates are that about 15% of whiplash injuries have long-term symptoms. Often this is due to damage to neck joints, discs, or ligaments. Still, many times chronic pain after a whiplash injury is hard to explain.

The Three Steps to a Whiplash Injury

Whiplash is specifically caused by external movement as your body responds, so there are three steps in the process.

  • Step 1
  • Your upper and lower spine experience flexion when your neck and head bend, decreasing the normal angle between the bones
  • Step 2
  • Your spine takes on an S-shape, extending and eventually straightening, so your neck curves inward again
  • Step 3
  • Your entire spine is in extension with intense sheering forces that cause compression of the joints

When this hyperextension of the lower end of your spine and flexion at the top exceeds the limits of your spine’s mobility, you have whiplash.

The Symptoms of Whiplash Go Beyond Neck Pain

Don’t be surprised if you find that you don’t have any neck pain or whiplash symptoms for a day or so after the injury or accident. Symptoms are regularly delayed for 24 hours after the trauma. But usually, within a few days, you’ll notice some or all of these symptoms:

  • Neck stiffness, tightness, and pain
  • Headache, often at the base of your skull
  • Pain in one shoulder or between your shoulder blades
  • Lower back pain
  • Numbness or pain in your arm and/or all the way down to your hand
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble thinking, remembering, focusing, or concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Ringing in your ears (Tinnitus)
  • Trouble with sleep

Symptoms are varied and often quite individual. Any new symptom you didn’t have before the accident could be directly related. Always mention any changes in how you feel to your physiotherapist at Revive Spine and Sport Physiotherapy Clinic in Edmonton.

Physiotherapy for Neck Pain and Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD)

After resting for a day or two, it’s time to head into the office at Revive Spine and Sport Physiotherapy Clinic in Edmonton. The first step is always a comprehensive assessment. Your physiotherapist will ask questions about the accident or injury, making sure they have as many details about the event as possible. For example, if you were in a car accident, they will ask you where and how you were sitting, and from what direction your vehicle was hit.

They will also ask you about your medical history, including any previous injuries or conditions. For example, if you have had surgery, even on an area not directly affected, your physiotherapist will ask about that.

They will also ask about your lifestyle. Do you play soccer on the weekends? Do you like hiking? Are you a gardener? Does your work involve driving long distances or lifting heavy weights? Every detail is important.

Then, you’ll be asked to make some simple movements, such as turning your head and walking across the room. Plus, your physiotherapist will check your reflexes, strength, and range of motion. They will also check to see how your body is balanced. For example, if one arm is stronger than the other, or you have better flexibility moving your head to one side than the other.

Once they complete the thorough assessment, this information provides the basis for your rehab plan. Everyone’s body is different, and every injury is unique. So, every rehab plan needs to be customized to your needs.

Implementing Your Rehab Plan

Most neck pain and whiplash patients have a combination of several physiotherapy treatments in their rehab plan. Chances are, you’ll have at least two or three different therapies that combine to speed healing and ensure the most complete recovery possible.

  • Control Your Pain
  • One of the first steps in your rehab plan will be to reduce your pain and discomfort. When you have pain, you may tense up, which can cause more pain – creating an endless cycle of more and more pain. So, your physiotherapist will use passive techniques to help you relax and feel better immediately. Heat and cold packs are often recommended for use at your physiotherapy sessions to help relax your muscles. Your therapist then uses manual therapy, or other modalities, to reduce your pain and inflammation even further.
  • Restore Your Neck’s Normal Range of Motion 
  • After a whiplash event, it may be hard to move your neck in some directions. It often depends on the direction of the trauma, whether you find restricted motion on the left, right, forward or in every direction. Your physiotherapist will have assessed the limits of your range of motion initially. As your pain reduces, you may find the flexibility improves. However, with neck pain and WAD, your neck is bound also to need strengthening, sometimes more on one side than the other. Your physiotherapist will determine which passive and active therapies are best for you. Your rehab plan will likely include a series of stretches and movement exercises for you to do between appointments. These exercises are critical to helping restore your flexibility, strength, and range of motion in your neck. Many patients find heat applied to the area, like taking a warm shower, makes the exercises more comfortable.
  • Make it so You Can Go Back to Your Normal Daily and Weekend Activities
  • Physiotherapy for neck pain and whiplash associated disorders (WAD) is not an instant fix. Your body needs time to heal. Physiotherapy does support rapid healing and helps you feel better during the time your body needs to recover. Your physiotherapist will recommend which activities you can rejoin during your rehab period. For the most part, whatever you feel comfortable doing will be fine. Of course, don’t repeat whatever activity caused your whiplash! Most patients recover well enough to go back to most activities within 6 to 8 weeks. About 15% of those with WAD take longer, often up to 6 months. Almost everyone benefits from regular physiotherapy sessions as a “touch-up,” monthly, quarterly, or annually, to keep symptoms at bay and reduce the chance of reinjury.

Should You See a Physiotherapist for Neck Pain or Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD)?

Generally, if you suffered a whiplash trauma, no matter how mild, you should see your doctor. If you are in a car accident, it’s often advisable that you go to the emergency room immediately.

Usually, your doctor will suggest or even prescribe physiotherapy because it is generally accepted as a highly effective treatment. Even if your doctor doesn’t specifically tell you to see a physiotherapist, it is within best practices. If your insurance company requires a referral, make sure you get one, but aside from that, you can come on your own without a referral.

There is no harm in a physiotherapy assessment! The experienced physiotherapists at Revive Spine and Sport Physiotherapy Clinic in Edmonton will get to the root of your pain. Plus, we will work with your other doctors and your insurance company to make sure you get the best care possible.

Reach out to Revive Spine and Sport Physiotherapy Clinic in Edmonton for an assessment if you have neck pain or a whiplash associated disorder (WAD.) We’re here to help! Call us today at (780) 752-1100.

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