Neck Pain & Whiplash

Whether you have ongoing discomfort in your neck or are suddenly experiencing pain and stiffness, this summary will help you understand the causes and how physiotherapy can help. Research suggests that in most cases it is best to keep normally active.


What is neck pain?

Neck pain is extremely common. Pain and stiffness can make it difficult to turn round – for example, when reversing a car. Symptoms may appear suddenly, as when someone wakes up with a stiff and painful neck, or gradually. The pain may be limited to the neck or may be accompanied by headaches and dizziness, or pain and pins and needles down the arm or hand.


What causes it?

Most neck pain does not have one simple cause, but is a result of a range of conditions that affect joints, muscles, tendons and the other tissues in the neck. Factors that can contribute include tension and sustained or repetitive activity, such as using the telephone a lot, sitting at computer screens or in front of the television, playing a musical instrument, and long-distance driving.

If the neck has moved suddenly and unexpectedly (as in a car accident), the pain may be due to an injury, commonly known as whiplash.


How can physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapists are highly skilled at helping people with neck pain. The physiotherapist will examine your neck and explain how you can manage the pain, contribute to your own recovery and prevent the problem from recurring.


What will happen when I see a physiotherapist?

The physiotherapist will assess how your neck is working and affecting your life. They will ask lots of questions, watch your movements and feel your neck. Any visit is likely to include:

exercises to do at home

posture and lifestyle advice, and activities to avoid.

relaxation techniques.

It may also include:

some manual therapy

applying heat or cold to the affected area
Info Source: The Chartered Society Of Physiotherapy.
What is Whiplash?

Whiplash associated disorders are defined as an acceleration-deceleration mechanism of energy transfer to the neck. The typical result is bony or soft tissue injury. The most common causes of whiplash associated disorders are motor vehicle accidents, particularly when hit from behind. This causes a rapid flexion- extension – flexion whipping action of the neck. Other less common causes are collision injuries and sports injuries in contact games.

What are the grades of severity?

A classification system has been devised to grade the severity of whiplash associated disorders. The grades range from 0 to 4 and include the following:

Grade 0: No complaint of symptoms with no physical signs

Grade 1: Complaint of neck pain, stiffness and tenderness with no signs

Grade 2: Complaint of neck symptoms with musculoskeletal signs of reduced range

Grade 3: Complaint of neck symptoms with neurological signs of weakness and sensory deficits

Grade 4: Complaint of neck symptoms and fracture/dislocation present

How should I be managed?

A physiotherapist is able to assess your injury status and determine what classification level you fall under to ensure you receive the most effective and specific treatment. It is important that patients realise that physical serious injury with higher grades is actually quite rare and the majority of patients have an extremely good prognosis. Reassurance and the adoption of a positive attitude early on are central to a good outcome.


Common management of whiplash associated disorders includes:

Correct advice on activity modification e.g. appropriate work and recreational schedules to ensure you do not aggravate your symptoms but still remain active. Recovery is actually improved with graded early return to normal pre accident duties with bed rest and neck collars actually contributing to delayed recovery and chronicity.

Prescribe an effective muscle re-education exercise program to restore appropriate muscle control and support in the neck region. Self exercises have been shown to help regain normal activity levels quicker as well as reducing neck symptoms.

Correct advice on pain management strategies. Over medication has been shown to be detrimental to recovery. Your physiotherapist is able to show you the best, non pharmacological methods of pain relief to help to get back to normal activities pain free as quick as possible but also empower you to cope better with symptoms.