Whiplash associated disorders (WAD) describes a constellation of symptoms (neck pain, headache, mental fog, radiating arm pain, mid- and/or lower-back pain, neck and upper back stiffness, muscle spasms, fatigue, anxiety, memory loss, etc.) that can result from the sudden forward and backward whipping motion of the head and neck. While motor vehicle collisions are most often associated with WAD, such an injury can also stem from a sports collision, fall, and physical abuse/trauma. Since the condition is a common reason individuals are referred for chiropractic care, let’s take a look at how WAD is diagnosed and managed.
Your doctor of chiropractic will ask you to complete initial paperwork that includes the usual biographical data as well as questionnaires specific to the event that caused the WAD injury. The physical examination will include various movement tests to help them determine the pain generator(s) and whether or not there is neurological injury. X-rays taken from the front, side, and at the end range of motion may be used to assess ligament integrity. If necessary, advanced imaging—a CT scan or MRI, for example—may be ordered to provide a clearer picture about damage to the soft tissues (such as the disks).
The current treatment guidelines for WAD recommend therapies that promote restoration of motion and for patients to continue activity as much as “normal” since immobilizing the neck (by wearing a cervical collar, for example) can actually delay recovery and prolong a return to normal activity. Doctors of chiropractic are trained to employ a number of manual therapy options for reducing pain and disability to facilitate the healing process. In-office treatment may also include massage and physical therapy modalities like electric stim, ultrasound, laser, magnetic field, and more.
A chiropractor may also prescribe specific exercises for the patient to perform at home to strengthen the deep cervical muscles and to improve the patient’s range of motion. To manage pain and inflammation, the patient may also receive instruction on the application of heat and/or ice, as well as recommendations for natural anti-inflammatory agents like ginger, turmeric, bioflavonoids, or to reduce their intake of processed foods, which can promote inflammation in the body. If brain injury is present, chiropractors frequently partner with other healthcare professionals who specialize in such matters. Often, a team approach will offer the best outcomes in more complicated cases.
Since studies have demonstrated that WAD patients who delay care are more likely to develop chronic symptoms, it’s important to receive a thorough examination of the neck and associated soft tissues sooner rather than later.