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More on Whiplash and Therapeutic Massage

16 Oct 2017

In our previous post we talked about massage therapy for neck pain, and whiplash in particular. (If you haven’t read that earlier article, click here.) 

Because whiplash can cause injury to different muscle groups, it’s important for the bodywork therapist to first take a history of the accident (with as much detail as possible) and resulting symptoms as well as obtain the consent of the patient’s treating physician.

The next step is resistance testing to identify which muscle groups are affected. These are most commonly the scalenes or the sternocleidomastoids, although the erector spinae may also be involved.

  • Sternocleidomastoid injury can be assessed if the client has pain from either resisted neck flexion or rotation
  • Pain occurring from resisted neck extension or side flexion indicates the injury is to the scalenes
  • Resisted neck extension pain may also indicate the erector spinae is involved either in conjunction with the posterior scalenes or on its own.

How Soon Should Therapeutic Massage for Whiplash Begin?

As with any soft tissue injury, the sooner massage therapy treatment begins, the better. Healing will generally be quicker and associated pain most likely can be reduced. Of course, It should not begin before the treating physician has given the okay. Starting massage therapy soon after the injury means that development of chronic neck pain can often be avoided.

How Long Should Massage for Whiplash Continue?

Most people who sustain a whiplash injury see substantial improvement within about a month. But for others, the recovery period is much longer. It is recommended that so long as the client has symptoms of whiplash, therapeutic massage specifically to address the whiplash injury should be continued.

What Types of Massage Are Beneficial for Whiplash?

  • Myofascial release can address restricted movement as well as neck stiffness. The injury may have caused dysfunctional fascial holding patterns, and myofascial release can help correct that as well.
  • Deep tissue massage can be applied after relaxing of the superficial muscles. Deep tissue massage can be applied to break up adhesions and scar tissue as well as release contracted fascia.
  • Trigger point compression can be helpful to boost flow of oxygen to the affected muscles, helping to relax contracted tissue. This particular type of therapy can be helpful in preventing long-term muscle dysfunction that some experience long after the initial injury.

Regardless of the type of bodywork used, duration and amount of pressure should be to the client’s tolerance. This is one injury where erring on the side of gentleness is advised. Ongoing communication between therapist and client as to comfort and pain tolerance level is extremely important. The whiplash patient is already experiencing substantial discomfort, so the therapist doesn’t want to cause more.

And as is the case in any type of bodywork around the neck, care must be taken to avoid pressure on the carotid artery.

One of the additional benefits of therapeutic massage for someone suffering from whiplash is encouraging relaxation and promoting healthy sleep. Muscle pain and injury can be stressful, and simply being able to relax and sleep better will go a long way toward aiding in healing and recovery.

Pain is the number one reason people seek out the aid of a massage therapist. Our Minneapolis bodywork therapy school offers a variety of programs to train massage and shiatsu therapists who can address a wide range of painful conditions, including whiplash. 








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