This article is part 2 of a 2 part series. For Part 1, click here.
Our current Whiplash topic continues from last month when we reviewed the “mechanism of injury,” the “type of injury,” and “prognosis.” This month, we will review the “nuts and bolts” of the whiplash injury or whiplash associated disorders (WAD).
Whiplash diagnosis: The diagnosis of whiplash first and foremost requires a thorough history. Here, your doctor will discuss the factors leading up to the MVC (motor vehicle collision), the angle or direction of impact (front end, angular, side or T-bone, rear end), whether the head was pointed straight or rotated, whether the head hit anything inside the car, airbag deployment and any related injury, seat belt location and effectiveness, the conditions of the day (weather, road, lighting, etc.), the onset of each injured area including neck, upper/lower back, headache, memory loss, and radiating symptoms (time lapse to symptom onset), ER/ambulance involvement, the initial 24-48 hours, the point of maximum pain intensity, job and non-vocational capabilities, prior test results (x-ray, CT, MRI, lab, etc.), prior treatment effectiveness, and more! The physical examination centers on observation (posture, patient distress, mood); palpation or touching the injured areas; orthopedic tests (looking for positions that either relieve or increase symptoms); range of motion tests (how far forward, back, sideways, and in rotation can the head be voluntarily moved and its related level of comfort, speed/quality of motion); a neurological exam (sensory, motor, cranial nerves, etc.); and special tests (x-ray, CT, MRI, lab, etc.), if not previously done.
Course of care: The type and length of treatment will vary based on the degree of injury (see last month’s “prognosis” discussion), the initial response to care (improvement vs. worsening), the compliance of the patient in modifying their activities, performing home-based care (ice, rest, exercise, etc.), and the patient’s motivation to get better. The latter may be partially dependent on factors like whether there is litigation planned or occurring, their belief that they will “get better,” and how the healthcare provider manages the care (the use of passive approaches where the patient must go and see the doctor vs. active approaches where the patient is taught how to self-manage through diet, exercise, activity modifications, education, etc.)
Treatment options: The patient has the choice of following a traditional medical model of initial anti-inflammatory medication, patient education, wait and watch, and/or a physical therapy referral. The chiropractic approach includes patient education, anti-inflammatory approaches (ice – NOT HEAT, anti-inflammatory herbs), exercise training, and manual therapies (including spinal adjustments). The latter, when applied properly, has been found to return patients to work faster than other approaches with a shorter recovery time and is less costly and more satisfying. When comparing treatment options beyond 6 or 12 months, the differences are more subtle. Other treatment options include acupuncture, massage therapy, and various forms of exercise. When necessary, injections, narcotics, and other pharmaceutical options exist but are not recommended as initial care approaches. Behavioral and cognitive therapy can help people cope with chronic, permanent pain related problems. There are many approaches to the management of whiplash and the patient needs a “quarterback” or someone to help them with these decisions. This is perhaps the most important role of the chiropractor!