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  • Writer's pictureGlenn Charbonneau, P.T.

Whiplash... What exactly is it?

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

Motor vehicle collisions (MVCs) create 50 million injuries worldwide, with the most frequent being a whiplash associated disorder (WAD).

After an MVC, half of the individuals who sustained a WAD will make a full recovery, usually within 3 months. The other half may continue to experience ongoing symptoms and dysfunction. Symptoms of WAD may include: neck pain, headaches, dizziness, fatigue and difficulty sleeping.

Physical therapists are often the first to manage mechanical neck pain, and are able to apply a variety of interventions such as, manual therapy, dry needling, therapeutic exercise, traction and education.

The most evidence based, non-invasive treatments specific to WAD includes patient education and exercise.

Education may involve: guidance on either staying active or resting for each individual, explaining the nature of a whiplash injury, expectations for the timeline of one’s recovery and coping strategies such as managing pain or sleep.

Exercise, representing the active management for one’s recovery has been shown to be more effective than passive interventions such as, taping, hands on treatments, and modalities (ex. TENS, ultrasound & laser). Although education and exercise hold the most evidence, passive interventions when used in conjunction may also quickly relief pain and improve movement for each session at the clinic.

Physical therapists play an important role for the recovery of WADs, but represent only one part of the entire medical team. Healthcare professionals who also contribute to a better recovery may include: general practitioners, massage therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists.

WAD injuries present differently with every case, due to the nature of injury, and the unique lifestyles, perspectives and experiences associated with each individual. If you’ve been diagnosed with WAD, it is important to be regularly assessed and treated by your medical team in order to ensure the best outcomes with your recovery. Sources

Daenen, L et al. Cervical motor dysfunction and its predictive value for long-term recovery in patients with acute whiplash-associated disorders: A systematic review. J Rehabilitation Medicine. 2013 Feb;45(2):113-22. DOI: 10.2340/16501977-1091.

Llamas-Ramos, R et al. Comparison of the Short-Term Outcomes Between Trigger Point Dry Needling and Trigger Point Manual Therapy for the Management of Chronic Mechanical Neck Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 2014 44:11, 852-861. DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2014.5229 Nikles, J et al. The Role of Exercise and Patient Education in the Noninvasive Management of Whiplash. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 2017 47:7, 481-491. DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2017.7138

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