The pain caused by whiplash is due to soft tissue damage – tearing of the muscles, ligaments and tendons in your neck. Usually, the amount of tearing that has taken place has an effect on the symptoms you will experience, and in turn, the probable duration of your recovery.
If you have been in a major accident or have suffered from a heavy blow to the head, neck or body, you may experience whiplash symptoms immediately. In these types of incidents, it is quite common to have suffered other injuries too, so you may find that you are checked for whiplash as part of other treatment.
However, if you were involved in a minor accident or collision, you may not feel any neck pain or stiffness at the time. It is quite normal for whiplash symptoms to take hours to appear. Many people who are involved in minor car accidents find that the neck pain and swelling doesn’t become pronounced until the next day.
When a doctor sees you, you will be asked about how you sustained the injury and the doctor will look at your neck and head. At this stage, the doctor is trying to assess how severe your symptoms are, so that more significant damage, such as spinal cord injury can be ruled out. They will also ask you about any previous neck or head injuries you may have had, as these could have caused a weakness in your neck.
If the doctor finds no physical signs of injury, but you feel neck pain, it is likely that acute whiplash will be diagnosed. This is the most common form of whiplash. Depending on how you feel, the doctor may advise you to take painkillers such as paracetamol and possibly anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to reduce any swelling. They will also recommend that you try to move your neck normally, as this will help to speed up the healing process. Some doctors will show you how to do neck exercises that will help keep your neck mobile. It may hurt to perform these exercises at first, but they won’t do any further damage to your neck. It is important to keep your neck mobile as if it is kept still, your body’s natural healing process may cause scarring of the soft tissue, which can cause further complications later on.
If, during the examination, your doctor suspects that your neck shows signs of more significant damage, they will recommend that you have further tests. The purpose of the tests will be to see if you have suffered a more serious injury such as a fracture, dislocation or spinal cord injury.
There are several tests the doctor may request, but the most common types are:
- X-Ray examination
- CT scan (similar to an X-Ray but provides the doctors with more detail)
- MRI scan (a scan that allows doctors to see computer generated pictures of your tissue).
All of these examinations are painless, but you may find CT and MRI scans a little uncomfortable if you are claustrophobic, as you will need to lie in a special tube.
Treatments for Whiplash
Once you have been diagnosed with whiplash, there are several options available to your doctor. To begin with, the doctor will most likely recommend that you take painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and perform neck exercises. You will be asked to monitor the healing process, and if you continue to have discomfort after a few weeks, you may be asked to return for further assessment.
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with long-term whiplash (chronic whiplash), your doctor may recommend that you see a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. These specialists will use various massage, manipulation and movement exercises to help resolve problems in your neck, lower back and shoulders.
Being in discomfort for long periods can have an effect on your mental and emotional state too. Depression and anxiety are known symptoms of chronic whiplash, and both can be eased with the help of counsellors or cognitive therapists. In some cases, your doctor may suggest a course of anti-depressant drugs.
The Cost of Whiplash Treatment
The cost of whiplash treatment can vary, but you can expect to pay around £40-60 for a single session of physiotherapy. The number of sessions needed will vary depending on the severity of your injury and the symptoms you are experiencing.
Thankfully, most whiplash treatment is available free on the NHS. But as whiplash injuries are so common, there can be considerable waiting lists. With whiplash, it is believed that treatment is most effective if it is administered as quickly as possible. Delays to your treatment may mean you suffer from complications associated with chronic whiplash symptoms.
An alternative approach is to receive private treatment straight away. While there are costs involved, it may be possible that you can receive private care at no expense to yourself. In cases where somebody else has caused your injury, their insurance company may pay for all of your treatment. A whiplash solicitor will be able to advise you on this. You can of course request a call back by popping your details into the form at the side of this page or contact a member of the team here for a free, impartial consultation.