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Whiplash Mechanism of Injury

Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs due to forceful back and forth movement, often due to a motor vehicle accident. This neck injury is commonly associated with more frequent headache occurrence.

What is Whiplash Associated Disorder?

Due to the forceful nature of the acceleration-deceleration injury that causes whiplash, multiple structures in the neck may be affected. This includes:

  • Joints
  • Discs
  • Muscles
  • Ligaments
  • Nerve roots
  • Vascular Structures (internal carotid and vertebral arteries)
  • Bones
  • Vestibular System

The most common structures involved are the disc, muscles and joints. The risk of suffering injury to these structures varies depending on several factors including severity of the impact, previous history of neck pain, gender (more at risk as a female), and age (18-24). There may be up to a 48 hour delay of symptom onset after the initial injury.

Whiplash Clinical Prediction Rule is a model that can be used to predict the likelihood of the condition becoming chronic, which is very useful in altering the treatment process from the start to best cater to individual cases.

Due to the impact of injury, sensitisation of the brainstem can also occur which is thought to contribute to the association between WAD and headaches.

How is it treated?

WAD related headaches can be treated using the Watson Headache approach in a similar manner to other cervicogenic headaches.

On top of this, WAD is most commonly treated symptomatically via:

  • Pain medication for relief and to reduce inflammation initially
  • ROM exercises to improve pain and range
  • Strength exercises for the neck muscles, as well as the thoracic and scapular muscles
  • Correction of postures
  • Stretching to improve muscle length, and prevent muscle imbalances
  • Exercises to improve proprioception, oculomotor control and balance (where necessary)
  • Psychological factors may be addressed by the physiotherapist, or due to the traumatic nature of the injury referral to a psychologist may be necessary in some cases.
  • Return to normal daily activities as soon as possible, pain permitting.

Prognosis varies depending on severity of accident, symptoms, adherence to treatment program, but it is important to remember that majority of patients do recover, just in varying timeframes!

If you are or know someone who has recently suffered a whiplash injury, please contact us on 1800 432 322 or at [email protected] to book in for an initial diagnosis and assessment today! Please contact us if you have any further questions!

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