Whiplash – What Can I Do to Help Myself?

Whiplash or whiplash associated disorders (WAD) is a commonly used term for an acceleration-deceleration force applied to the neck often occurring in car crashes but may arise from a slip and fall, a diving accident, or another traumatic injury. The net result is an injury to muscles, ligaments, joints, and/or nerves in the cervical spine or neck region and possibly a concussion.

This month’s article is intended to spotlight self-help strategies that YOU can do to help manage this afflicting condition. It is authored by Professor Gwendolen Jull, the director of The Cervical Spine and Whiplash Research Unit, Division of Physiotherapy, at The University of Queensland. In her “message from the author,” she writes the following: “This booklet aims to assist persons who have had a whiplash injury on the road to recovery. It provides information about whiplash-associated disorders, an explanation of whiplash, and exercise program which has been proven to assist in reducing neck pain and advice on how to manage your neck to prevent unnecessary strain and to assist in recovery. The booklet is a self-help resource to aid recovery and to supplement any care being provided by a health care practitioner.”

In the table of contents, you will see whiplash defined, recovery information, and “helping yourself” topics followed by posture correction, proper sitting positions, lifting, carrying, and work instructions, as well as how to go about household activities. This 24-page guide concludes with exercise instructions followed by formal exercises, how often you should do them, and things to remember.

Here are some highlights:

  1. Most people recover from a whiplash injury at different rates
  2. Recovery ranges from days to months and occasionally one to two years – the majority recover fully
  3. Research supports trying to continue with your normal daily activities – modify as needed and gradually return to normal work, recreation, and social activities
  4. Be adaptive – make modifications to avoid flair-ups
  5. Some activities hurt, but that doesn’t automatically mean further injury. If you recover quickly, make modifications as necessary but continue the activity
  6. You are your BEST resource in the recovery process (stay motivated to fully recover)
  7. Stay active. Try to do as many of your normal activities as possible and gradually increase the intensity, frequency, and duration until normal function is returned
  8. Try to keep working – work with your employer and co-workers so you can stay on the job
  9. Don’t skip simple pleasures – enjoy time with family and friends, participate in social outings, begin or rediscover a new hobby
  10. Work with healthcare providers (like your doctor of chiropractic) to gradually introduce and increase exercises to regain motion, strengthen weak muscles, and improve function
  11. Be aware of your posture
  12. Modify activities to reduce strain during work and recreation
  13. Be more active/less sedentary to PREVENT neck pain
  14. Take breaks and change body positions throughout the workday
  15. Arrange your workstation/desk (monitor position, keyboard/mouse and chair “set-up”) to be more ergonomic
  16. Think about how you are sitting
  17. Act as usual, be active, be aware (posture, taking breaks, etc.)
  18. DO YOUR EXERCISES (modify according to comfort)
  19. Follow the instructions during exercise training (avoid sharp/knife-like pain)
  20. Communicate with your healthcare provider when questions arise!
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