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Exercises for Recovery from Whiplash Injury

Whiplash injury and the so-called whiplash associated disorders (WAD) are common injuries and most typically suffered in rear shunt vehicle accidents, of which there are a large number every day. The resulting pain and disability can be minor or very severe and frightening as neck posture and movement become extremely difficult due to high levels of pain and stiffness. Exercises are a very important part of reducing the pain and restoring the neck towards normal and are routinely prescribed by physiotherapists. The physio will judge the amount of movement and force appropriate for the pain condition of the patient''s neck, as forcing the neck joints and causing increased pain will always worsen the condition and delay recovery.

Initial exercises may be done in lying with a pillow under the head as the neck is most relaxed in this position and the muscles are not active to oppose gravity acting on the head. Hourly gentle movements within the painful ranges should be performed without aggravating the pain symptoms as this will worsen the pain and delay recovery. Regular time up with the head placing stresses on the neck is important for short periods as extended rest time is potentially associated with longer term pain and disability.

Once the person can be upright for a reasonable time the physio will prescribe simple neck exercises to encourage an increase in range of movement and to put normalising mechanical input through the neck discs, ligaments, facet joints and muscles. Simple neck exercises include rotating the neck as far as possible, moving the chin towards the chest, tipping the head backwards, side flexing to each side and tucking the head in to give a double chin. These neck exercises cover all the  main movements of the neck and should be performed hourly in a slow and steady fashion.

The physio will usually add a series of exercises to work on a larger body area, including the shoulder girdle, the shoulders and the upper thoracic area, all regions of the body where the effects of whiplash injury can be felt. Gradual progression of the range and the force of the exercises is encouraged by the physio to stress the joints of the neck so they can become more and more tolerant of postural and movement forces. As soon as possible the physio will progress the patient on to appropriate functional exercises related to their job and hobbies.


Author: Jonathan Blood-Smyth

Further information: whiplash injury compensation

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