This article is part 2 of a 2 part series. For Part 1, click here.
Last month, we started the discussion of self-care options in the management of whiplash or CAD (cervical acceleration-deceleration) or WAD (whiplash associated disorders). In this series, we are describing various treatment methods that you can be taught to help facilitate in the management process during the four stages of healing (acute, subacute—discussed last month; remodeling and chronic—addressed this month).
Like in the acute and subacute stages, many of the same self-care techniques can be applied here as well. You will NEVER “hurt” yourself with ice or ice/heat combinations (done properly), so they can be continued indefinitely. Many patients find this helpful. Using the analogy of a cut on the skin, in the acute stage, the cut is fresh and new. It is quite pain sensitive and unstable and it will continue to bleed if you don’t take it easy. After 72 hours (entering the subacute stage), the wound has an immature scab on it and it can still easily be re-injured, and if this occurs, especially by NOT self-managing properly, the recovery time can be significantly prolonged. So, “DON’T PICK AT YOUR CUT!!!” As we enter the later subacute phase (fourteenth week), the wound’s scab is quite mature, and self-care can be appropriately more aggressive. Think strengthening and activity restoration!
Stage 3 – REMODELING phase (14 weeks to 12 months or more): In this stage, we are now three months to a year out from the injury date and hence, we SHOULD now be more “aggressive” with care. During the late acute and subacute stages, you would have been performing exercises focused on movement restoration (range of motion / ROM exercises with LIGHT resistance) in addition to self-applied myofascial release techniques using foam rolls, tennis balls, TheraCane, and/or the Intracell (and possibly others). It is NECESSARY to continue the use of these methods, as they help reduce the chances for any scar tissue to become permanent. In this stage, we will guide you into more advanced exercises that include aerobics (walking, walk/run combinations, etc.) as studies show that whole body aerobic exercise helps MANY specific area injuries, including WAD/CAD injuries. Stretching short/tight muscles, working on balance-challenging exercises (rocker or wobble boards, balance beams, gym balls, eyes closed specific action movements) are VERY IMPORTANT, as they retrain your neuromotor system and reintegrate neural pathways that have been disrupted by the injured tissues and retrain faulty movement patterns you’ve developed from compensating due to pain. Strengthening exercises will include the core since the head sits on the neck, the neck on the trunk, the trunk on the legs, and ALL of this sits on the feet (so we’ll even consider stabilizing the sub-talar joint at the ankle and if pronation is excessive, foot orthotics can help whiplash patients)!
Stage 4: CHRONIC (Permanent): ALL OF THE ABOVE can be employed after the one to two year point to “maintain” your best level of function. If you still have pain, try to “ignore it” and KEEP MOVING, stay active, stay engaged in work, family activities, and DON’T let the condition “win.” AVOID CHRONIC DISABILITY by staying active and fit!