Whiplash and Massage: Your Questions Answered

Are you suffering from a whiplash injury? It’s never fun. 

Massage therapy will often make a difference in treating the symptoms of whiplash injury — it can even shorten the duration of a whiplash injury. 

And, in some cases, massage therapy can help prevent the onset of chronic pain.  

In this article, you will learn about: 

  • The signs and symptoms of whiplash
  • The causes of whiplash; and 
  • The effects of massage on a whiplash injury.

Table of Contents

What Happens to the Body After Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to the neck, and it is caused by the neck bending, with great force, backward and forward, or vice versa.

This injury usually involves the … 

  • Muscles
  • Ligaments
  • Discs
  • Nerves; and
  • Tendons 

… in the neck. It occurs when these parts of the neck extend beyond the normal range of motion. 

Whiplash pain may affect the neck for any length of time, from days to years. 

The neck is connected to muscle groups in the:

  • Head
  • Chest
  • Arms; and 
  • Shoulders

These areas may also feel pain after the neck injury. 

There can also be additional effects such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches; and
  • Body Fatigue

These additional effects can take any length of time, from hours or weeks, to notice. 

At Cascade Spine and Injury Center, we are happy to discuss different treatment options following a whiplash injury.

Is It OK to Get a Massage After Whiplash?

Yes, but the general advice is to proceed slowly. Massage and bodywork can address the discomfort that accompanies whiplash, but it is recommended to wait a few days and undergo a thorough assessment.

How Long Should You Wait After Whiplash to Get a Massage?

As stated above, after the injury occurs, it is recommended to wait a few days before receiving a massage after whiplash. By waiting a few days, you’ll allow the initial healing process to remain uninterrupted. 

You may feel mild pain or discomfort following the accident, but your pain or neck stiffness may worsen up to two weeks later.

Why Is an Assessment Important?

An assessment for providing massage allows the therapist to provide a specialized treatment plan. An assessment is not a diagnosis; instead, it is an evaluation of soft tissues and their implications for the posture and function of muscles and joints. 

Assessment is critical because it allows the therapist to fully understand the patient’s condition to provide effective treatment fully. Assessment is a process that enables each patient to receive the treatment they need. 

The Cascade Spine and Injury Center team will coordinate to create a care plan that addresses your specific needs. 

What Assessments Are Often Done Before Getting a Massage?

An assessment is essential because it allows the therapist to go through a detailed medical history and determine whether there is a contraindication (a condition restricting the therapist from providing treatment to the patient). 

The assessment should include:

  • Verbal consultation
  • Range of motion testing (the distance the joint can be moved in a particular direction)
  • Manual Palpitation (the therapist touches the injured areas and assesses for muscle tone, muscle spasm, and swelling)

The therapist will gather important information such as:

  • Details regarding the client’s accident or injury
  • Understanding how the pain is impacting the patient’s life
  • What the patient hopes to gain from the massage therapy 

Some of the questions a thorough assessment might answer:

  • Are there any serious injuries?
  • Are there any disc problems or fractures?
  • Are there any cuts or bruises which could cause pain during treatment?
  • Did nerve root compression cause the whiplash?
  • Did a concussion cause the whiplash?
  • Does the patient have any previous neck or back injuries?

An assessment allows for specialized and personalized treatment. This type of treatment does more than just treat symptoms; it provides for lasting results.

Can Massage Make Whiplash Worse?

Sometimes, a patient might look to the internet or YouTube for “massage after whiplash” information. This is potentially a huge mistake.

Proper massage techniques must be followed. Even though the neck is strong, it can suffer additional damage due to incorrect self-massage practices. 

As with anything, it is risky to trust information from strangers over the internet. So please do yourself a favor and leave massage treatment to the professionals. 

Are you interested in discussing how massage therapy can help with your whiplash injury? Feel free to contact Cascade Spine and Injury Center today. 

Massage Therapy Techniques for a Whiplash Injury

Massage is an effective treatment for increasing mobility and flexibility following whiplash injury.   

By following proper massage therapy techniques for a whiplash injury, the patient will experience less pain and will continue to heal.

Let’s take a look at several different methods of massage therapy commonly used to treat whiplash injury.

#1: Cross-Fiber Friction

Often, when whiplash happens, micro-tearing of muscle and other supportive tissues occurs. Pain begins once the muscle has started to heal and scar tissue starts to form. 

The scar tissue lays down in random patterns and may cause the underlying bone, tissue, and muscle fibers to get “stuck” together. This feels like a “pulling” or “tightness” that results in decreased range of motion and a loss of flexibility.  

Cross-fiber friction is the most effective treatment for separating and realigning the “stuck” scar tissue. It is also the most effective treatment for increasing range of motion and flexibility. 

To treat the scar tissue build-up and the decreased mobility, the massage therapist uses direct pressure to provide cross-fiber friction that works to loosen adhesions and reduce scar tissue buildup.

#2: Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is a manual therapy technique used in massage after whiplash. This therapy technique focuses on the pain deriving from myofascial tissues: the tough membranes that connect, wrap, and support muscles.

When whiplash happens, the body often goes into a “holding pattern.” The holding pattern happens to protect the body against impact. Unfortunately, due to this response, this holding pattern is maintained indefinitely, leading to myofascial pain and tightness. 

During myofascial release massage therapy, the therapist pinpoints myofascial areas that feel stiff and fixed instead of elastic and pliable. Then, light compression is used to relax these areas.

When a therapist applies compression to the affected area, it leads to an improved flow of oxygen which helps in relaxing and healing the muscles. 

The massage therapist may target the treatment in an area of your neck that isn’t feeling any pain. Still, these areas hamper muscle and joint movements, contributing to widespread muscle pain.

#3: Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage for a whiplash injury is often used to target specific trouble spots following an accident. For example, muscle spasms and chronic pain, along with soreness and stiffness, can be treated with deep tissue massage. 

The deep tissue massage will focus on the …

  • Sore
  • Stiff; and 
  • Painful 

… areas of concern and customized to the patient’s specific needs. 

This type of massage works by breaking down muscle adhesiveness that generally builds up following an accident. The pressure applied to the areas of tension and pain targets this adhesiveness and is more profound than in other types of massage.

When the therapist applies deep and controlled pressure to an affected area across the muscle’s grain, deep tissue massage relaxes stiff tissue and relieves the pain of tight: 

  • Ligaments 
  • Tendons; and 
  • Muscles. 

Deep tissue massage may cause slight discomfort. Therapists encourage their patients to keep them informed of their comfort level and pain tolerance during the massage. The soreness following deep tissue massage usually lasts only a day or two.

#4: Passive Range of Motion Mobilization

Following an accident, cervical whiplash can occur. This is a form of whiplash in which the cervical spine and supporting structures are affected. Low back pain is commonly associated with whiplash injury, leading to a limited range of motion throughout the body. 

Passive Range of Motion Mobilization (PROM Mobilization) is often used to increase the range of motion. It is a form of massage therapy in which someone physically moves or stretches the targeted area of the body. 

PROM Mobilization physically manipulates the muscles surrounding the spinal column, promoting better health throughout the entirety of the body.

How Long Does Massage Therapy Take to Ease Whiplash Symptoms?

Recovery from whiplash varies for each person, but there is evidence that it tends to happen within three months of the injury with the proper care. A typical treatment schedule is once a week for 8 to 12 sessions.

Following whiplash, please keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” treatment plan. Everyone heals differently and at different rates. In addition, there is no exact timeline for the healing process. 

Without any treatment, it is essential to understand that the muscle aches and knots experienced can go on for years. You may never be entirely pain-free, and these knots and kinks set in and become part of your lifestyle. 

If you have been in an accident and now experience muscle tension or pain in your neck, you are likely experiencing the effects of whiplash, and it is vital to begin treatment as soon as possible.

What Can Clients Do to Continue Treatment After a Massage Therapy Session?

To extend the benefits of massage and to help promote healing and wellness, recommendations for home care following massage are often provided. 

Let’s take a look at some home care recommendations:

  • Hydration – The patient should increase water intake on the day of massage and the days between sessions. 
  • Epsom Salt Baths – This helps to replenish the muscles and joints and provides relaxation. 
  • Heating Pads/Hot Water Bottle – These increase circulation and decrease muscle soreness following a massage. 
  • Warm Topical Creams – These feel great and will help relieve any muscle soreness.
  • No Vigorous Exercise – Vigorous exercise can be counterproductive following massage treatment. In addition, an exercise that is too vigorous can cause some low-grade inflammation. Consider a lighter exercise, such as walking, instead.
  • Stretching – Stretching can help to maintain less pain and tension between massage treatments. 

As with any home care program, please check with your physician/therapist before beginning.

Have a Whiplash Injury? Here’s How Cascade Spine & Injury Center Can Help

Cascade Spine & Injury Center combines …

  • Chiropractic  
  • Massage therapy; and  
  • Therapeutic rehabilitation 

… to provide you with a quick and effective recovery from whiplash and other traumatic injuries.

We use an integrative approach, which regularly provides excellent results for our patients.  

To learn more about how we can help with whiplash injury, contact us today.

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