Whiplash: Anna’s road to recovery
While stopped at a give way sign waiting for the traffic to pass, Anna’s vehicle was rear-ended by another vehicle. As a result of the impact, Anna noticed that the pain she felt in her neck after the accident was steadily getting worse, to the point where she woke up two days later unable to rotate her neck at all. She shares her story with us.
Help, I can’t move my head!
Any sudden limitation in movement or function is a concerning situation for anyone. The initial shock from being in a motor vehicle accident can often make it a confusing time. Anna said, “When I woke up two days after the accident with intense neck pain and unable to move my neck, I wasn’t sure what to do. I could not get rid of this constant headache from the tense muscles in my neck, shoulders and upper back. Even the slightest turning of neck in either direction was excruciating. So I made an appointment with the local GP for advice.”
After examining Anna, her GP diagnosed a whiplash injury. Anna said, “When the GP first told me I had whiplash I was quite surprised, as I didn’t think that the other driver was travelling that fast when he hit my rear bumper. The GP explained that when whiplash occurs it is the sudden movement of the head back and forth in a stationary position that causes the overstretching of the tendons, muscles and ligaments in the neck, causing swelling and pain. It was the fact that I was stationary and held back by the seatbelt more than the speed at which I was hit that contributed to the whiplash injury.”
Her GP then recommended using a heat pack regularly, as well as taking anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief and to reduce the swelling in the soft tissues of the neck. He also recommended that Anna take two weeks off work, as sitting at a computer desk for long periods could aggravate the whiplash injury. The final suggestion was to see a physiotherapist for further treatment of the whiplash injury.
What to do next?
Before the accident Anna had never been to a physiotherapist, so this was a new experience for her. The physiotherapist completed a full physical exam and assessed Anna’s current range of movement in her head, neck, shoulders and back. “The physiotherapist told me that with whiplash, the impact from the force of a car travelling 30 to 40 km/hour is the equivalent of being dropped on your head from the second floor of a building. No wonder I’m in so much pain!”
Treatment of Anna’s injury started immediately and involved the physiotherapist using deep tissue massage techniques on her neck, shoulders and upper back muscles. The focus was on massaging main trigger points and contraction knots where the muscles were very tense. In addition to deep tissue massage, the physiotherapist used a technique called dry needling on specific contraction knots to help release the muscle tension and encourage healing. Anna said, “I had never heard of dry needling before, but I was interested in any other techniques that would help relieve the tense muscles and pain I was experiencing. It was a matter of laying on my front while the physiotherapist located specific contraction knots then inserted a special needle in the centre of the knot.” This proved to be an interesting experience. Anna said, “It’s not painful. You just feel a sharp scratch as the needle is inserted, then it’s an unusual feeling of a deep contraction of the tense muscles followed by a release in muscle tension.”
The physiotherapist recommended a treatment plan consisting of regular heat packs on the neck and three treatment sessions per week. Anna was given a range of neck stretches to do three times a day to help improve the range of neck rotation and help encourage movement in the neck. The physiotherapist advised that it could take weeks of treatment before Anna’s range of neck rotation returned to normal. “I’m glad that I started a treatment plan with the physiotherapist immediately after being diagnosed with whiplash. I started to noticed that after the first few days I started turning my whole upper body to look to my left or right, which the physiotherapist said is a common adaptive response to a whiplash injury. If I had waited to seek treatment I would have continued to adopt these responses, which the physiotherapist said would have taken much longer to treat and get full neck function back.”
Taking care of business
Being injured after a motor vehicle accident can cause a feeling of being lost and uncertainty on what to do. Following the physiotherapist’s advice on treatments from her initial appointment, Anna started investigating the recommended process for anyone injured in a motor vehicle accident. “I contacted my car insurance company and was told to contact ICWA, which is the Insurance Commission of Western Australia. So I got straight onto the phone to ICWA to find out what I needed to do. I was told that I needed to lodge an online police crash report and answer yes to the question regarding being injured in the accident. The police report is then reviewed by the ICWA assessment team and after receiving a report from both drivers on their version of the accident, liability is designated and a claim number is provided. All GP visits and physiotherapy treatments needed to be paid up front, then the original receipts are sent in for ICWA to review and reimburse up to a specified amount.”
Road to recovery
It’s been four weeks since the accident and Anna has found great benefit from anti-inflammatory medicine combined with her recommended physiotherapy treatment plan. She is currently receiving two treatment sessions a week from the physiotherapist as she has regained more movement in her neck. “My physiotherapist has taught me a range of different stretches to reduce tension and stiffness in my neck and back. These are helping me improve my range of movement and flexibility.”
Whiplash can take a few days or weeks to recover. For some people it can take several months. The most important thing a person can do to help their own recovery is to follow the treatment plan recommended by their health professional.
Her advice to anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident? Anna said, “Get checked out by a GP, even after what you think is a minor accident, and seek treatment as early as possible.”
- Jull G, Sterling M. Whiplash injury recovery: A self help guide (2nd edition). The University of Queensland. 2015. Available from: [URL link]