Whiplash involves the over-stretching of nerves, muscles, and ligaments. The forces are so great during even low speed collisions that the muscles cannot resist the forces. The injury of whiplash produces inflammation to repair the damaged tissues. During this time, fast movements of your head and neck will result in pain, so most patients become overly cautious and move their neck very little. Unfortunately, over time, because of a lack of muscle use, those muscles weaken. This sets up the difficult combination of both damaged ligaments and weak muscles that can have a difficult time providing support for the neck. This may make you very vulnerable to a future injury. Even slight movements can produces flare-ups when the muscles are too weak, and the patient may report their head feels heavy. Sometimes patients’ injuries can be so severe that dizziness develops due to the asymmetrical muscle and nerve activity. This is called cervicogenic vertigo. If you get dizzy when you move your head, then you may have this condition.
While it may seem intuitively obvious that addressing weak neck muscles is important to a full recovery, few patients will do them unless prompted and explained by their doctor. Specific muscles need to be strengthened in a way that does not cause further damage to the ligaments. If the muscles are tight in certain areas, then stretching, deep tissue massage, or trigger point therapy can help to loosen areas and decrease pain.
But the most important thing you can do on a daily basis is to keep exercising. Studies have shown this to be effective in whiplash treatment when there is a mechanical neck disorder. A specific exercise program can be prescribed by a doctor of chiropractic. Special attention should be made to your posture, x-rays, and how specifically you were injured. Only in this way will the treatment be effective and not risk further trauma.
Exercises such as rolling the head around the shoulders should be avoided since the neck is not a ball and socket joint like the shoulder. In some directions, the joints will have excessive laxity and the muscle exercises should be done in the neutral position versus at the end range or limit.
Because the ligaments are so badly damaged in whiplash, it’s important to maintain the supporting muscles (both strong and flexible), to keep the spine stable and pain free.