Sports Physiotherapy

If you’ve suffered a neck injury like whiplash while playing sport, physiotherapy is often the way to a full recovery

Sports injuries which involve falls, jolts or blows to the head and damage to the neck can often result in a painful whiplash injury, especially if you play rugby, ice hockey or the martial arts. A stiff or immobile neck, neck pain, back pain, headaches and muscle spasms can all point to whiplash injuries following an accident playing sport.

The symptoms of whiplash can cause considerable pain and discomfort to the recovering player, and while mild symptoms can disappear in 2 to 3 days, the more severe effects can last for a number of months. It’s likely that you’ll require some time off while the injury is treated, and this can be highly disruptive, especially to professional players and athletes. And unfortunately, if chronic pain develops, a long-term whiplash injury can jeopardise your whole career.

Treating Whiplash Injury

In all cases of sports injury it’s important for the player to receive swift treatment, so as to minimise the recovery time and get the player back on her feet as soon as possible. As the severity of whiplash injuries varies, so does the nature of the treatment and the length of rehabilitation.

For mild injuries sustained as a result of whiplash, immediate treatment can seriously speed recovery. Treatment aims to deal with neck pain and stiffness in the neck, allowing the damage to the delicate soft tissues around the cervical spine (the upper region around your neck and shoulders) to heal. This can take the form of applying an ice pack to reduce neck swelling, good posture and gentle neck exercise to encourage movement, and painkillers to ease the pain associated with whiplash.

But it’s a different case if a player suffers a severe whiplash injury. It’s possible for delicate ligaments to be sprained or torn, and the other soft tissues of the cervical spine (like tendons and muscles, and the spinal cord and nerves) seriously damaged. Often, with the likelihood of a player’s career being compromised by a debilitating injury, the best option for a fast and complete recovery is physiotherapy.

The Objectives of Physiotherapy

Broadly, physiotherapists aim to treat injuries to muscles, bones and the heart and lungs, in order to improve the body’s free movement and promote recovery, helping to increase the patient’s independence, especially where problems like whiplash have caused disruption to work and daily tasks. A diverse range of approaches are used in physiotherapy; among them are massage, manipulation, specific exercises, and hydrotherapy.

A unique factor in physiotherapy is the importance given to understanding what affects the patient contextually – drawing on psychological, social and cultural factors. Physiotherapy is particularly useful in treating sports injuries because of its systematic, holistic approach, which incorporates preventative measures to avoid future injury. Much of this information – plus further help and advice if you are suffering from whiplash – can be found on the NHS Choices website.

Physiotherapy for Whiplash

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy outlines the following recommendations for the specific treatment of whiplash injuries. Physiotherapists aim to

  • “improve function
  • facilitate empowerment of the person with a Whiplash Associated Disorder (or WAD)
  • return the person to normal activity /work
  • relieve symptoms”

To treat acute whiplash injuries in the first twelve weeks following the injury, and to reduce the likelihood of a patient developing chronic (long term) pain, a physiotherapist might use

  • manual mobilisation of the neck
  • an exercise program
  • advice on pain management, including relaxation techniques
  • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which involves using electrical currents to control pain
  • massage

In addition, physiotherapy places emphasis on the return, wherever possible, to a normal routine, exercise and a positive attitude in promoting swift recovery. According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the treatment has proven itself to be highly clinically effective in the rehabilitation of whiplash sufferers. – (Moore et. al., 2005, ‘Clinical Guidelines…’; CSP, 2005, ‘CSP Launches New Whiplash Guidelines’)

Are you suffering from whiplash following a sporting accident?

If you are suffering any of the symptoms of whiplash, or have recently experienced a situation in which you could be at risk from whiplash, it’s important to visit your doctor as soon as possible. See our [Details on Whiplash] for more information, and what to do if you’ve been affected by this serious injury.