Driving Injuries

It is estimated that about 1 in 100 people suffered from a whiplash injury last year. It is the most common driving injury, and has also been made famous due to the high number of personal injury claims based on it. I am not going to go into the controversy surrounding this, but instead give further insight into what whiplash actually is, how physio can help to treat it & how to minimise your risk of suffering from it should you be unlucky enough to be involved in a car accident.

Whiplash is the most common driving injury

What is whiplash?
Whiplash is an acceleration/deceleration neck injury. Basically, as impact occurs usually to the rear end or side of a car, your head is thrown forwards (flexion) & backwards (extension)or side to side. Due to the force & speed with which this happens your neck will often move further than it normally would allow – so over stretching & straining the surrounding soft tissue.
What is soft tissue?
It’s a general collective term usually referring to muscles, tendons &ligaments, but may also include skin, nerves and vessels. You could simply think of soft tissue as potentially anything other than bones!
The symptoms of whiplash are usually pain and stiffness around the neck & upper back.This can be accompanied by headaches, tenderness to touch and limited movement.
There is huge variety in the degree of symptoms people experience with whiplash injuries.Though the pain can be quite debilitating, it is rare to injure yourself severely, but if you are concerned about any unusual symptoms then see your GP. The majority of people recover fully – the time span for this can vary from days, to weeks to months depending on various factors that I shall go into further below. Try not to worry & keep gently moving – our bodies are often stronger than we think, even if our day job isn’t stunt driving!
How physiotherapy can help:
There is some good evidence out there that physio can help people who suffer with whiplash.
Firstly – advice and education. When we understand why we are getting pain, this can help us cope with it better & even experience less pain. Being checked out by a physio and diagnosed should increase your confidence in moving your neck – and with whiplash this is certainly the advice that you will receive. Holding your neck still will only make it stiffer.
Wearing a neck collar is not recommended – again this will just hold your neck still so making it stiffer & it may decrease your confidence in the strength of your neck when you take it off.
You should be given exercises to get your neck gently moving and stretching your tight muscles, as well as advise to return to your normal activities and job ASAP.
Each patient is treated as an individual, so further treatment may depend on what is found in assessment, but you may well also receive some further hands on treatment and postural advice.
Tips to reduce the risk or improve the outcome:
  • Ensure that your car seat has a head rest & that it is level with the top of your head.
  • Set up your car seat so that:
  • You can easily reach the pedals without over extending your leg to depress the clutch fully.
  • Your elbows are slightly bent when your hands are at the 10 & 2 o’clock positions on the steering wheel.
  • You are sitting with your bottom right back in the seat, so your lower back is supported.
  • You are neither leaning forwards nor backwards, but instead are comfortably upright with your head quite close to the head rest behind.
  • Your mirrors are well aligned so that you don’t need to twist your head whilst driving.
Having good neck health before an accident improves your likelihood of a better recovery –so look after your posture keeping your shoulders back & down, and lift from the crown of your head to lengthen your neck & tuck your chin in. Check yourself in the mirror to see from the side how this looks.
Stay positive – I know it sounds cheesy – but stress & anxiety can slow recovery times & increase the muscular tension in & around our necks.
Always ensure you are fit & healthy to drive – check the DVLA standards or with your GP if you have any concerns.
If you’d like a consultation give us a call at Back in Action UK – or ask me a question on Twitter@julietphysio
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