What Leads to Chronic Whiplash?

Whiplash associated disorder (WAD) is a very common injury that can occur in a variety of ways, but it’s most commonly associated with motor vehicle collisions. The symptoms associated with WAD have been classified as follows:

•  WAD I: Pain, stiffness, or tenderness of the neck as the only complaint with no physical exam findings (full range of motion and no muscle guarding or tenderness on examination).

•  WAD II: Pain, stiffness, or tenderness of the neck with soft tissue injury signs loss of range of motion (ROM) and/or point tenderness of the neck (e.g., a sprain/strain neck injury).

•  WAD III: Pain, stiffness, or tenderness of the neck along with neurological signs sensory deficits, motor weakness, and/or decreased or absent deep tendon reflexes.

•  WAD IV: Pain, stiffness, or tenderness of the neck along with dislocation or fracture with or without spinal cord injury.

•  Other symptoms including deafness, dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), headache, memory loss, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), and jaw pain can be present in all grades (WAD I-IV).

About 50% of WAD patients continue to report neck pain one year after the injury occurred. These long-term symptoms and signs can vary from mild to completely disabling.

There are prognostic factors that may help predict who is at risk of developing long-term, chronic (lasting longer than three months) WAD, which include the following (partial list): women more than men, age over 50 years, lower educational attainment, those who had pre-injury neck pain and/or headaches, the higher the WAD grade (comparing WAD I-III), those reporting more frequent or severe post-injury symptoms with greater pain intensity, poor coping at six weeks post-injury, depression, feeling helpless regarding pain control, fear of movement or activity, catastrophizing, anxiety, and high frequency pre-injury healthcare utilization.

There is evidence that WAD-injured individuals can develop widespread body pain or fibromyalgia in the year following their injury. This occurs more frequently in women and in those with poor prior health, greater initial symptoms (including pain intensity), and more symptoms of depression.

Among available treatment options, manual therapies such as mobilization and manipulation—the primary form of treatment delivered by doctors of chiropractic—often receive the highest ratings from patients in regards to overall satisfaction with care.