Physical Therapy for Longstanding Whiplash Symptoms

September 30, 2016 in STSMPT

Whiplash injuries are prevalent. They are typically related to motor vehicle accidents and occur because of sudden acceleration / deceleration of the head and neck. They need to be taken seriously and treated thoroughly. Up to 48% of whiplash injuries become chronic pain conditions, and in half of those cases, the pain is severe enough to interfere with daily life.


Recently, the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation published an article demonstrating that guided exercise therapy can help patients take control of their chronic neck symptoms and make worthwhile improvements. They took 60 patients who had chronic neck problems after a whiplash injury that was six months to three years old. The average injury in their group was one year and ten months old. They put half of the group on a wait list while the other half of the group received physical therapy. Even though many of these patients had problems that had lasted for years, the group receiving physical therapy experienced a 41% improvement in their pain. The physical therapy group also enjoyed significant improvements in scales of disability and self-efficacy. At the same time, the people in the waitlist group tended to get worse.


The course of physical therapy these researches used was two visits per week for three months. At first, they focused on activity of the deep neck muscles and motor control. Later, they progressed to resistance exercise with the resistance gradually increasing according to the physical therapists’ ongoing assessment of progress.


The takeaway message here is that even if you have been enduring chronic pain for years, you may not need to live with that level of pain – especially if that pain is from a spine injury. Safe, conservative, pain-free exercise therapy can significantly change your life if you get the right professional guidance to get you started. After that training, you will be better empowered to implement your exercises independently and have more control over your level ability and how you feel.


Source: Peolsson A, Ludvigsson M, Tigerfors AM, Peterson G. Effects of neck-specific exercises compared to waiting list for individuals with chronic whiplash-associated disorders: a prospective, randomized controlled study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Feb 2016; 97(2): 189-195.


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