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Useful Tests for Diagnosing Whiplash

21 Jan

When it comes to whiplash associated disorders (WAD), the process of making an accurate diagnosis and treatment recommendation can vary from healthcare provider to healthcare provider depending on their educational background, ongoing training, and clinical experience. There is also a growing pile of research with respect to WAD that helps refine existing processes and introduce new perspectives to take on the condition and its treatment. Here are developments that can help doctors better evaluate the presence and severity of WAD.

In a 2017 study, researchers evaluated a diagnostic test that utilizes six isometric muscle fatigue tests of the neck and arm muscles in search of an inexpensive and relatively low-tech method for identifying the presence and degree of WAD injury—WAD I (no/minimal complaints/injury), WAD II (soft-tissue injury—muscle/tendon and/or ligament injury), WAD III (nerve injury), WAD IV (fracture). The study included 75 patients who had experienced a whiplash injury in the previous six hours and 75 non-injured subjects with a similar make-up (age, gender, body type, etc.).

            The investigators observed that the participants with WAD injuries fatigued at a much faster rate in each of the six tests, and those with a higher grade of WAD injury experienced fatigue even quicker. Based on the fatigue data alone, evaluators were able to identify the WAD patients with a more than 90% accuracy. While additional studies are underway to confirm these findings with more participants, this may offer healthcare providers an easy, accurate, and safe method to determine the severity of WAD injury and offer more tailored treatment recommendations in the time period immediately following an automobile collision.

A study published in 2020 used video fluoroscopy (VF) to observe both WAD patients with chronic neck pain and non-injured subjects while they performed five movements to a firm end range involving the motion of the cervical spine. Using the VF data, radiologists were able to differentiate members of the two groups with significant accuracy. The use of x-ray taken at a firm end range of each motion can also be used to make these measurements. This is important as most patients and healthcare providers don’t have ready access to VF but many times, X-rays can be done in the office or a short drive away.

The most current treatment guidelines for WAD recommend seeking care as soon as possible versus taking a wait-and-see approach. Chiropractic care is an excellent option that can reduce one’s risk for developing chronic WAD symptoms that may be more difficult to resolve.

This information should not be substituted for medical or chiropractic advice. Any and all healthcare concerns, decisions, and actions must be done through the advice and counsel of a healthcare professional who is familiar with your updated medical history.

Car Crash Characteristics and Whiplash Recovery

17 Dec

While many cases of whiplash that result from a motor vehicle collision (MVC) have a successful outcome, some experts estimate that up to 25% of whiplash patients will experience chronic pain and disability. Several studies have sought to identify characteristics that differentiate these individuals from those who recover so that additional treatment can be offered to reduce the risk for chronicity. Let’s see if the characteristics of a MVC can shed any light on this…

In a 2019 study, researchers assessed 37 acutely injured patients within a week of their MVC, two weeks later, and three months later in order to determine any association between pain and disability with both specific crash measurements (head turned at time of impact, seatbelt use, whether or not airbags deployed, if the vehicle was struck while stopped or while turning, the principle direction of force, damage cost estimates, speed of impact, etc.) and patient characteristics (sex, body mass index, signs of post-traumatic distress, negative affect, etc.).

The research team identified a positive association between the percentage of self-reported neck disability at three months post-MVC and post-traumatic distress, negative affect (such as anger or sadness), and uncontrolled pain. There was no direct effect with crash characteristics such as vehicle damage, principle direction of force, or speed change. Though they recommended a larger study to confirm their findings, researchers were unable to establish a link between chronic whiplash pain and disability and specific crash characteristics. That is, there was no apparent connection between a person’s risk for ongoing whiplash issues and the severity of the collision. This study points out that recovering from a whiplash associated disorder requires a biopsychosocial care approach, not just focusing on the biology or tissue damage/diagnosis, but also the patient’s attitude about the injury and getting better.

This echoes a similar study that linked post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with prolonged whiplash associated disorders recovery. In the study, researchers found that hyperarousal/numbing PTSD symptoms were predictive of long-term neck pain-related disability.

In addition to managing musculoskeletal disorders with manual therapies, nutritional recommendations, modalities, and specific exercise recommendations, doctors of chiropractic may utilize more whole body, health-oriented approaches to help patients learn how to relax and reduce stress and anxiety with techniques such as deep-breathing, visualization, contract-relax or tensing exercises, and more. When needed, your chiropractor can coordinate with primary care and specialty care providers, such as mental health counselors and clinical psychologists.

This information should not be substituted for medical or chiropractic advice. Any and all healthcare concerns, decisions, and actions must be done through the advice and counsel of a healthcare professional who is familiar with your updated medical history.

Whiplash and Weakened Neck Muscles

19 Nov

The whiplash process can lead to a number of concurrent symptoms (neck pain, headaches, limited cervical range of motion, etc.) referred to as whiplash associated disorders, or WAD. It’s estimated that about one in five WAD patients will also develop potentially chronic, concussion-like symptoms like brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and other cognitive impairments. A 2020 study shed light on a way to help identify such patients early on so targeted treatment could help keep their WAD from becoming chronic and persistent.

In the study, researchers used resting-state-fMRI (rs-fMRI) to image 23 patients with chronic WAD and compared their findings with assessments used to objectively measure neck disability, traumatic distress, depression, and pain. The research team identified an association between fat infiltration into the cervical muscles and abnormalities in the brain network structure associated with WAD-related neuropsychological issues. That is, the patients with more fatty tissue in their neck muscles were also those with more signs of brain injury or altered brain function.

When deep muscles and associated soft tissue in the neck are injured in a whiplash event, the body may recruit superficial muscles to help stabilize the body and maintain posture. While this can protect the deep muscles from further injury in the short term, it can decondition these muscles over time and allow fatty deposits to infiltrate its tissue.

In another study that followed 141 WAD patients and 40 non-injured subjects for one year, researchers observed that the WAD patients demonstrated a loss in neck muscle strength throughout the year, even if their neck pain resolved and their cervical range of motion returned to normal. Additionally, the patients who had not recovered enough to return to work after a year had an average of 50% loss of strength in their neck muscles.

The findings of these studies suggest that when the whiplash process is forceful enough to  injure the soft tissues of the neck in a manner that leads to abnormal muscle activity that allows important muscles to weaken and for fatty deposits to develop, then the same event can also lead to a potential brain injury, with resulting cognitive symptoms. If so, then identifying WAD patients with cervical muscle weakness early may help doctors uncover which patients may need more substantive care to reduce their risk for ongoing WAD issues. 

Several treatment guidelines indicate that chiropractic care is a great first-choice treatment option for the WAD patient, which may involve a multimodal approach to restore motion in the affected joints and strength in the deep and superficial cervical muscles.

This information should not be substituted for medical or chiropractic advice. Any and all healthcare concerns, decisions, and actions must be done through the advice and counsel of a healthcare professional who is familiar with your updated medical history.

Predicting Whiplash Outcomes

19 Oct

With up to 50% of whiplash associated disorder (WAD) patients experiencing long-term symptoms, is there a way to predict which patients are likely to recover following a whiplash injury? To answer this question, a team of researchers analyzed findings from twelve systemic reviews to identify prognostic factors that could help predict patient outcomes following a whiplash associated disorders (WAD) injury.

The authors concluded that the outcome of acute whiplash was dependent more on the association between initial pain and anxiety and less with physical factors such as MRI or x-ray findings, motor examination findings, and collision factors (impact direction, car speed at impact, seatbelt or headrest use, or the extent of vehicular damage).

What can be done for the patients who are at greatest risk for ongoing issues? A 2020 study investigated the potential benefits that a multimodal rehabilitation (MMR) program had for sub-acute (six to twelve weeks) and chronic (more than twelve weeks) WAD patients with soft tissue injuries and no nerve injury or bone fractures. The participants were first examined by a multi-professional team that included a pain and rehabilitation specialist (PM&R), a psychologist, an occupational therapist (OT), a physiotherapist (PT), a social worker, and a nurse. This same team then treated the patients over a five-week timeframe.

The investigators then compared standardized questionnaires completed by participants both before and after the treatment period and then one year later. The researchers reported that participants achieved significant long-term improvements with respect to overall physical and mental health, pain intensity, ability to carry out everyday activities, anxiety, and depression.

Many chiropractors utilize a multi-modal approach when treating WAD patients to address three goals: pain management, functional restoration, and self-management strategies to minimize the need for long-term professional care.  When needed, a coordinated care approach is set up between allied healthcare professions that may include PT, OT, clinical psychology, and/or others.

This information should not be substituted for medical or chiropractic advice. Any and all healthcare concerns, decisions, and actions must be done through the advice and counsel of a healthcare professional who is familiar with your updated medical history.

Understanding Whiplash Associated Disorders

24 Sep

Whiplash associated disorders (WADs) can be a very confusing condition characterized by a myriad of symptoms stemming from a forceful, rapid back-and-forth motion of the head and neck. While this process commonly occurs during a rear-end crash, it can also arise from a slip-and-fall injury, sports injury, physical abuse, or any type of trauma involving a quick, forceful impact. To understand how this happens, let’s discuss the mechanism of injury and how fast the head and neck movements are that occur in a classic rear-end collision.

One paper that utilized kinematic studies on cadavers and healthy volunteers reported that a WAD injury can occur in any one of three stages during the impact. STAGE 1: Flexion or forward movement of the head/neck starts with a flattening of the normal C-shaped curve. STAGE 2: The curve then reverses into an S-shaped curve with the lower half of the cervical spine (or neck) extending (C-shaped) and upper half flexing (reverse C-shape) forming the S-shaped spinal curve prior to the head/neck fully flexing. STAGE 3: The entire cervical spine extends into an extreme of the normal C-shaped curve as the head rebounds backward, hopefully stopped by a properly fitting headrest!

These three stages occur FAST—in about 600 milliseconds, which is MUCH quicker than someone can voluntarily contract a muscle. Hence, it’s next to impossible to “brace” for the impact because it’s over before we can react!

Anatomically, the front of the cervical spine is made up of large square-shaped bones called vertebral bodies (VBs) of which there are seven in the neck, each separated by a shock-absorbing disk. There is a strong ligament that runs the entire length of the spine in the front and back of the VBs that help stabilize the spine, or vertebral column. There’s another ligament in the back part of the vertebral canal where the spinal cord travels from the brain to the low back and two “facet joints” at each of the seven vertebrae that holds them together. Hence, each level is like a tripod with a big supporting leg in the front (the VBs) and two spatulated legs in the back (the facets) that allow for motion and protect the cord and exiting nerve roots, which allows us to feel textures and temperatures, as well as move our limbs.

When the head whips forward (Stages 1 & 2), the front of the cervical spine jams together while the facets in the back spread open. This is where the VBs in front can compression fracture and/or the capsules surrounding the facet joints in the back can over-stretch and tear. The latter has been reported to be a common and major source of post-crash pain in WAD injuries.

While many individuals will heal without significant issues after a whiplash injury, up to 50% will continue to experience symptoms such as neck and upper back pain, stiffness, loss of mobility, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, memory loss, and other cognitive dysfunctions associated with concussion. This underscores the importance of seeking prompt treatment (chiropractic care offers a great choice) to reduce the risk of WAD transitioning into a chronic, long-term, and life affecting condition.

This information should not be substituted for medical or chiropractic advice. Any and all healthcare concerns, decisions, and actions must be done through the advice and counsel of a healthcare professional who is familiar with your updated medical history.

Whiplash Associated Headaches

17 Aug

One of the symptoms commonly associated with whiplash associated disorder (WAD) is headaches. The current research suggests that up to 50% of patients who experience whiplash-associated headaches may continue to suffer from them for up to a year or more, and many of those will continue to have headaches as late as five years following their whiplash injury event. There are many potential causes for WAD-related headaches, which can include cervical injury, jaw dysfunction (TMJ), psychological distress (depression and anxiety), brain structure abnormalities (concussion), and/or overuse of headache medications.

To address these potential causes of whiplash associated headaches, treatment may include the following:

MANUAL THERAPIES: Mobilization and manipulation, which are commonly used by doctors of chiropractic, have been demonstrated to be effective for reducing pain and improving function for many conditions, including WAD and headaches of cervical origin. Treatment may also involve massage and physical therapy modalities, depending on the patient’s needs.

EXERCISE: A review of research published between 1990 and 2015 found that craniocervical, cervicoscapular, and posture correction exercises can be helpful in the treatment of whiplash-related headaches.

STAY ACTIVE: Try to carry on with normal activities within pain tolerances, as movement is needed to keep soft tissues healthy and to ensure a continuous supply of nutrients to the cervical disks. Don’t use a cervical collar to immobilize the neck unless directed to do so by your doctor.

NUTRITIONAL SUPPORT: There are several vitamins and supplements that have been shown to reduce inflammation and/or reduce pain. These include flavonoids, curcuminoids, omega-3 fatty acids, taurine, and vitamin D. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet can also aid in the healing process.

Doctors of chiropractic frequently use a combination of these approaches when managing WAD patients to help reduce pain and disability and assist the patient in returning to their normal activities as soon as possible.

This information should not be substituted for medical or chiropractic advice. Any and all healthcare concerns, decisions, and actions must be done through the advice and counsel of a healthcare professional who is familiar with your updated medical history.