Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

I had a bad fall yesterday and I think I gave myself a whiplash injury. I went to the emergency room and got an X-ray. Everything looks okay. I stayed in bed all day but I'm up now and need some help. Is it safe to do my normal activities?

Answer:

That is a very good question and one that is extremely important in the early days after a neck injury. Limiting motion and activities can actually contribute to an acute problem becoming a chronic one. There is plenty of evidence that whiplash (and other neck) injuries respond best to a very short period of rest with a return to normal movement and activities as soon as possible. So far you are right on track! Experts advise patients keep up with this plan even if neck pain, stiffness, and loss of motion develop afterwards. This kind of approach may help prevent the impairments in movement and problems with neuromuscular control that so many people seem to develop after a neck injury. It can be a challenge to change the way muscles contract and relax when pain is the main feature preventing normal patterns of muscle activation. Movement patterns that are particularly affected by whiplash injury include the ability to move the head and neck quickly (speed) and smoothly. Both the superficial (surface) and deeper muscles are both affected. If the problem is severe enough or goes on long enough, changes in muscle behavior and movement patterns begin to affect the nearby joints as well. All of this points to the need to decrease pain and get the neck moving as normally as possible. This means resuming your usual activities as tolerated and being patient with the process. Research has shown that fear, anxiety, and panic over the incident and subsequent injury only makes matters worse. Sometimes people start avoiding any movement they think might cause even the slightest pain. That phenomenon is called fear-avoidance behavior or FAB. You'll want to avoid fear-avoidance! Give yourself a few days to regroup and see how you are coming along. If you have any doubts or concerns about the stability of your neck, see a medical doctor (either your primary car physician or an orthopedic surgeon). If you need a little help through the process, see a rehab specialist such as a physical therapist. The therapist can guide you in establishing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. This may help prevent repeat episodes of neck pain and foster healing so you don't become a chronic whiplash sufferer. Gwendolen A. Jull, PT, PhD. Considerations in the Physical Rehabilitation of Patients with Whiplash-Associated Disorders. In Spine. December 1, 2011. Vol. 36. No. 25S. Pp. S286-S291.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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