Each year, 2 million people suffer
from whiplash related to car accidents in the United States alone.
Studies using high-speed cameras and sophisticated crash dummies have revealed that rear impact car accidents result in a condition called ‘whiplash’.
This forces the bones of the lower cervical spine (the neck) into hyper-extension (backward bending motion) while the bones of the upper neck are suddenly thrust into hyper-flexion (forward bending motion). In a split second, the normal curvature of the cervical spine is disrupted and the consequences can range from mild to serious.
A sudden, abnormal motion to a sensitive region like the neck causes damage to the soft tissues (ligaments and muscles) of the cervical spine. This leads to inflammation and pain.
The most common symptoms related to whiplash include:
• Neck pain and stiffness
• Shoulder pain
• Jaw pain
• Arm pain/weakness/ tingling
• Back painPhysical Therapy Helps Recovery
Recent studies have shown that physical therapy may be the best choice to decrease pain, improve mobility, and minimi
ze lost productivity as a direct result of whiplash-associated disorders.
In a study in the Journal of Rheumatology (2007), a systematic review was performed of the existing literature on neck pain related to car accidents. The evidence strongly supported the use of stretching/strengthening exercises and mobilizations. Also, treatment with physical therapy was less expensive in the long run and reduced long-term disability compared to other treatment options.
An article in the Emergency Medical Journal (2006) compared two groups of individuals recovering from car accidents. The first group received mobilization and exercise therapy (components of physical therapy) and the second group was treated with medication and a cervical collar. The group that received physical therapy had significantly less headaches and other symptoms related to whiplash compared to the second group.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, the best thing you can do is to have them consult with a physical therapist. The longer you wait to seek the expertise of one of a licensed physical therapist, the more prolonged the recovery process is likely to be. An Active Approach To Be Pain-Free Again
In most cases, the potential for recover is high, especially with the right care as early as possible. A return to activity as soon as possible helps significantly. Although symptoms may be around for a while, the pain will improve within a few days or weeks. Be sure to continue with the medicines prescribed by your doctor to aid with early movement.
Remember that prolonged inactivity does NOT help. Keep moving - it's important. Avoid staying in the same position for too long to avoid tightness and loss of flexibility.
Exercise plays a big role in recovery. Simple neck and shoulder exercises are safe and effective. Stretching, strengthening and coordination exercises should be done regularly each day. Some soreness after exercise is to be expected. It is not a cause for concern.
Physical therapy, in conjunction with standard medical care, has been shown to be the best choice to decrease pain, improve mobility and help you return to normal daily activities after a car accident.
A physical therapist plays an important role in the recovery process following most injuries. With mother’s day round the corner, it’s important to remember that women in particular experience a higher risk from bone-related injuries after menopause. In this newsletter, we try to dispel some of the most commonly-held myths about post injury exercise regimes, so that the mothers (and everyone else) in your family are aware of the do’s and don’ts of post injury exercise.
Myth #1: After an injury, “Bed rest is the best”.
Fact: A short period of bed rest (1 to 2 days) can help prevent further injury during the acute phase, but longer rest intervals can be counterproductive. In fact, resting and inactivity can actually cause more pain since a lack of activity leads to reduced blood flow and even muscle weakness. This, in turn, creates more pain and triggers an unhealthy cycle of pain and inactivity that feed each other and aggravate the situation.
Always start with low intensity exercises (your physical therapist will point you in the right direction) and ease into an exercise regime that progressively strengthens your muscles and improves flexibility of your joints.
Myth #2: Going to the gym is the best way to regain your strength.
Fact: It’s common for people to reinjure themselves if they return to the gym or engage in ‘unsupervised exercise’ too soon after an injury. Trust the expertise of the physical therapist and complete an exercise protocol before progressing to independent, unsupervised exercise.
Myth #3: With any exercise, if there is no pain, there is no gain.
Fact: When you first start an exercise plan, you’ll be using your muscles in new ways that may cause soreness the next day, but anything more than a little discomfort isn’t healthy. Contrary to popular belief, exercise doesn’t have to hurt to be effective. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something’s wrong – if you want to avoid serious injury, listen to your body and back off at the first sign of pain.
Myth #4: Focusing on specific muscles (abs, arms, thighs) is the best way to recover after an injury.
Fact: The energy expenditure (amount of calories burnt) increases as you involve more muscle groups and increase the intensity of exercise. As healing continues, your physical therapist may recommend exercises like walking which involve several large muscle groups as opposed to single muscle group movements.
Aquatic Exercise Is Safe
Exercise done in water (swimming pools) is effective for injury recovery in all age groups.
The buoyant forces of water provide a calming, cushioning effect, which protects (and challenges) your muscles, joints and bones.
Water is several times denser than air and facilitates high energy expenditure with minimal risk of injury. Water exercise has several benefits and also provides a safe medium for strengthening your muscles post injury.
Exercise Techniques To Prevent Injuries
Your physical therapist can provide you with specific guidelines for injury free exercise, but here are a few tips:
- Dress appropriately. Replace worn-out shoes and wear the right clothing while exercising. This will reduce the rough impact on your joints and allow you to stay comfortable.
- Warm up and stretch. You should always start off with warm-up exercises, like walking on the spot for several minutes. Gentle stretching exercises after your warm up allow your muscles to get ‘primed’ for exercise
- Don’t forget to breathe! Deep, regular breathing can keep your heart rate steady and help maintain proper oxygen flow to your muscles. Never hold your breath while exercising. Your physical therapist will advice you when to breathe in and out while exercising.
- Technique and range of motion: Your physical therapist will teach you the correct technique, range of motion and speed to help you get the maximum benefit from each exercise.
- Cool down. At the end of your workout, decrease the intensity of your movements for at least 5 minutes, allowing your heart rate to return to normal.