Your doctor may likely recommend physical therapy treatment for whiplash after you have been in a car accident as a safe option to help you heal and recover. You shouldn’t have to suffer through neck pain and stiffness after a car accident. Instead, physical therapy can help relieve your pain and discomfort while also focusing on your recovery. Treatment for whiplash can also help you avoid future surgeries that would require a significantly longer healing and recovery time. With physical therapy, the goal is to customize the number of visits to your physical therapist to meet your needs for a full recovery.
Timing of Whiplash Symptoms
Recognizing you have whiplash can be tricky because symptoms don’t always show up right away. When you’ve been in a car accident, your body is likely pumping with adrenaline and you might even be in shock. Both of these reactions can mask pain and your body’s ability to detect an injury.
In the event of a car accident that causes whiplash, your neck is flung forward and backward pretty violently, which can cause the muscles in your neck to strain out of their normal range of motion. When those muscles are strained or even torn, they may become inflamed, which can also mask other symptoms.
As the swelling goes down, damage to your muscles, soft tissues, and even the vertebrae in your neck can become more apparent. Doctors who deal with car accident injuries daily are able to recognize the common signs of whiplash and help diagnose this swiftly so you can begin treatment right away.
Physical Therapy Treatments for Whiplash
There are a variety of options in treatment for whiplash when you visit a physical therapist. Here are a few main goals of physical therapy treatment for a whiplash injury.
Managing Pain and Inflammation
In the days after your accident, the main focus of treating your whiplash is on helping to manage your pain and reduce swelling and inflammation in your neck, back, and even shoulders. Icing your neck can help to reduce the inflammation because it actually causes less blood to flow to the area. Gentle massage and ultrasound techniques may also be used to help reduce swelling and help manage your pain. Your doctor or physical therapist may also recommend a soft collar in the first few days after the accident to help support your neck and reduce pain.
Maintaining Range of Motion
Your physical therapist will begin with gentle exercises to keep your range of motion loose and prevent muscle spasms in your neck and back. Your body will naturally try to tense up in order to avoid pain and these gentle range of motion exercises will help keep your muscles loose and remind your body of its natural range. Whiplash symptoms like pain and stiffness affect your ability to turn your head fully like you would normally be able to and these exercises can help to slowly encourage your muscles to return to their normal range of motion as they heal.
Combating Muscle Stiffness
Muscle stiffness can really set in during the week after the accident as the inflammation has gone down and your body is reacting to the pain and healing process. Physical therapy uses stretching, exercise, and massage techniques to help combat stiffness in your neck muscles. Encouraging your muscles to continue moving through safe motions increases blood flow to the area, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients to help with healing.
Developing New Habits
Part of the healing and recovery process in physical therapy is about improving and learning new habits for healthy movement in your neck. Strengthening the muscles that support your neck can help better support your neck and avoid future injury to the area. You will also learn how to keep your neck in safe positions that support your spinal posture as well as the muscles and soft tissues in your neck.
Length of Physical Therapy Treatment
The length of treatment for car accident injuries depends on its severity. Your physical therapist will also monitor your ability to return to a healthy range of motion in your neck, no more pain symptoms, and no more stiff muscles when performing daily activities. In general, your whiplash symptoms can take hours to days to show up, which can delay treatment if you don’t seek medical attention right away.
The height of your muscle stiffness tends to occur within around a week of the accident and the healing and recovery process truly begins. Whiplash injuries to your neck muscles can take around a month to heal, while soft tissue whiplash injuries can take even longer. Your physical therapist will develop a treatment plan and establish a time frame that best works with your specific injuries and helps your recovery.