Whiplash is one of type of soft tissue injury that may result from a
car accident. It is caused by the rapid acceleration (speeding up) and
deceleration (slowing down) of the head and neck that occurs in a crash
(like a whip). Scientists believe whiplash type injuries may be related to
small rips in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. These small tears can
become chronically inflamed after a whiplash injury. The inflammation
causes spasm. The spasm in turn causes even more injury and more
inflammation. This is called a “vicious cycle” and is thought to cause the
long-term pain sometimes associated with a whiplash injury.
After a whiplash injury, most patients recover within a few weeks. Only
a minority of patients have problems which last more than a month. Current
research supports early and aggressive treatment. Beginning a stretching
and exercise program almost immediately is helpful. Exercise and manual
therapy (physical therapy and chiropractic) are also beneficial. A rapid
return to physical activity can speed recovery. Medications are helpful in
the acute phase. Some
pain blocks can provide relief. Surgery is rarely
needed for an uncomplicated whiplash injury. Prolonged bed rest, the use
of cervical collars, and history of depression will worsen your prognosis.
Patients with persistent symptoms after three months most frequently
develop long-term, chronic pain.
In other words, even though common sense may say that you should rest
if you have neck pain, whiplash sufferers seem to do best with careful
exercise, stretching, and a rapid return to activity.