“Whiplash” describes a forward/backward stress on the neck usually associated with low speed motor vehicle accidents. Problems such as neck pain, headache and dizziness persisting after a whiplash type injury are called ”Whiplash Associated Disorders”.
The good news for anyone suffering from a whiplash type injury is that over eighty percent of people suffering this type of trauma are better within six weeks. Many others are back to relatively normal after three months. While the acute injured tissues heal in this period, sometimes symptoms persist in a small number of people.
The current concept, which may be a bit tricky to understand initially, is that the brain PERCEIVES that the tissues are still injured. Your brain also causes your body to develop “maladaptive postures and movement patterns” to try to avoid pain. These can change. Your past life experiences, previous pain problems and your emotional response to persisting pain all influence how you feel. Your brain can learn how to perceive pain differently.
Recent high quality Australian physiotherapy research has identified some of the factors involved in this persistence of symptoms. While your brain has caused maladaptive postures and movement patterns and is misinterpreting the importance of pain as a sign of injury you can get better.
We know that:
- Every person has a unique story and individual response to what has happened
- Multiple factors influence how you perceive pain. These include your age, gender previous neck trauma and your family, work and social circumstances
- The brain has a big part to play in the persistence of symptoms
- It is never too late to undo brain patterns that have been set
On testing we may find:
- Residual faults in your posture and movement patterns that are increasing the load on your tissues and adding to your pain.
- problems with your ability to know where your head is in space (feeling dizzy) and problems with your brain/tissue circuits (hypersensitivity to touch and movement )
If you complain of feeling dizzy then we test your balance and eye follow responses. If you have pain and restriction of neck motion, we will find tight or overactive muscles, weak or inactive muscles. There is often also evidence of oversensitivity to tests of pressure.
The brain is plastic so we can help you to “rewire” your brain memory and thought processes to allow you to manage the pain better. If you are willing to challenge some of your old beliefs, and be part of a dynamic educational approach, you will enjoy life more.
Helen Potter Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, In Touch Physiotherapy, Subiaco WA
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