Whiplash associated disorders (WAD) encompass a cluster of symptoms—dizziness, mental fog, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and/or comprehending, light/noise sensitivity, memory loss, nervousness/irritability, sleep disturbance, anxiety/depression, and more—that result from a sudden acceleration and deceleration that injures the soft tissues of the head and neck. While each case is unique and can require a tailored treatment plan to give the patient the best chance at a positive outcome, there is research to support that two choices are among the worst and one choice may be the best for WAD treatment.
Worst Choice #1 – Doing nothing, especially in the presence of immediate symptoms (including concussive symptoms). Not only can delaying treatment lead to needless suffering, but it may prolong the recovery process and even increase the risk for chronic WAD.
Worst Choice #2 – Indiscriminate soft cervical collar use. While the concept of immobilizing the neck for a prolonged time frame to allow the soft tissues to heal makes sense, studies have shown that this practice can be detrimental to the patient. For example, cervical collar overuse can decondition the deep neck muscles that stabilize the cervical spine. When the collar is no longer in use, the deep neck muscles can no longer fulfill their duty and the body will recruit the superficial neck muscles to help maintain cervical posture, causing them to fatigue and increasing the risk for additional problems. One study found that WAD patients sent home from the emergency room (ER) with a cervical collar were about 3.5 times more likely to be back in the ER within three months.
Best Choice #1 – Multimodal, conservative care. A systematic review of 1,616 previously published studies looked to find out which interventions or treatments were most cost-effective for managing WAD. The researchers found the favorable approach WAD management includes a combination of manual therapies (such as spinal manipulative therapy and other forms of hands-on treatment provided by doctors of chiropractic), neck-specific exercises, and patient education.
If you experience a sports collision, slip and fall, or auto accident that doesn’t result in immediate issues that require emergency care, try to maintain your usual activities as best you can, and if you experience pain or other WAD-related symptoms, contact your doctor of chiropractic for an evaluation.