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How do you treat whiplash

Here we summarise all you need to know about whiplash and provide helpful hints on how to treat the condition

In severe cases whiplash symptoms can last for several years

What is whiplash?

Whiplash occurs when the soft tissues of the neck and spine and the tendons, ligaments and muscles are stretched and torn after a sudden movement or forceful jolt to the head or body. You could be entitled to whiplash injury compensation if you have suffered from this as a result of a road accident.

During a road accident, for example, if the brakes have been applied suddenly or the car has been involved in a collision with another vehicle, the sudden jerk or jolt causes the head to move away from the body and the neck muscles are over extended.

This can occur if the vehicle is hit from the front or side as well as from the rear and even if the car is hit by a vehicle travelling at a slow speed.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

Common symptoms of whiplash are restricted neck movement and neck pain, lower back pain and headaches. These can often be accompanied by tingling sensations or ‘pins and needles’ and heaviness in the limbs, pain in the arms and shoulders, muscle spasms, dizziness, blurred vision, memory loss, lack of concentration, tinnitus, sleep loss and depression.

Symptoms usually develop within hours and may continue to get worse in the days after the accident. As whiplash is a strain injury it is not unusual for the symptoms to last for a couple of months. Research from the United States using hospital studies suggests that three quarters of patients have recovered from their symptoms within six months of their accident but that a small number between 5 and 10% are still experiencing symptoms a year later and have not yet returned to work.

For some individuals symptoms can last for a number of years and stiffness in the neck and pain that comes and goes can be long term effects of the injury.

What is the best initial treatment for whiplash?

Traditionally patients with whiplash were advised by medical experts to rest for several weeks and to wear a supportive collar. Current medical advice from GPs however, suggests that keeping you neck moving as normally as possible, returning to your normal routine as soon as possible and taking advice from a GP or physiotherapist about how to move you neck and about gentle exercises for the neck area can mean that your recovery time is shorter.

Can complementary therapies help whiplash symptoms?

Although recent studies by the University of Toronto claim that complementary therapies may actually be prolonging the symptoms of whiplash as patients come to rely upon the medical assistance that they are receiving, many patients experiencing the symptoms of whiplash feel considerable physical benefit from receiving complementary therapies such as those provided by a physiotherapist or an osteopath.

Many physiotherapists operate within the NHS rather than in private practice and focus in particular on the issue of ‘mobility’. They can provide helpful advice for whiplash sufferers on remedial exercises and pain relief and many offer facilities for supervised exercise as part of a wellness programme. Osteopaths follow a holistic approach preferring to diagnose the person as a whole rather than just the affected area. They function on the basic premise that any changes or disturbances to the skeleton or spinal segments interfere with the surrounding nerves and blood vessels.

A technique called Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is used to provide manual therapy through gentle manipulation and massage. Local doctors can advise as to whether or not a complementary therapy is available on the NHS in the local area but a GP referral is not necessary.

If you are pursuing a claim for compensation for whiplash following a car accident, treatment by a complementary therapist may be considered an appropriate way of mitigating pain and suffering and it is likely that the cost of such treatment will be included in any subsequent award of damages.

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