Question:I was in a car accident five months ago. I got some improvement in my neck pain and headaches but I seem to be stuck and going nowhere too fast. What can I do to get back to normal?
Answer:Persisting pain and disability is a common problem after whiplash injuries. Studies show that only about one-third of adults with this problem are free of pain and disability by the end of three months.
And those same studies have data to show that the results aren't much better by the end of six months. The remaining two-thirds of the patients will have mil-to-severe pain and disability.
What can be done about this? That's the center of much debate and study. For some patients, radiofrequency (RF) heat treatment to cut off nerve messages may be an option. This is called a RF neurotomy. Special testing must be done to prove the problem is coming from the neck joints before a neurotomy is done.
Exercise may be the best treatment known. It's clear that physical activity and exercise won't cause any further damage to the whiplash injury. By five months, the underlying soft tissues have healed. So patients are encouraged to keep moving and not to let fear of pain restrict activities.
What kind of exercise is best? Most of the studies show a benefit no matter what kind of exercise is done. A physical therapist can help you get set up on a program that best suits your age, fitness level, and baseline pain and disability. The therapist will guide you in progressing the program along.
The best advice today supported by research is to start a lifelong exercise program. Not only will it help with your current symptoms, but it can help speed up recovery should you have any other injuries in the future.Mark J. Stewart, et al. Randomized Controlled Trial of Exercise for Chronic Whiplash-Associated Disorders. In Pain. March 2007. Vol. 128. No. 1-2. Pp. 59-68.
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