You may have heard of the term 'whiplash' but what does the word mean?
Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) is a medical term given to a variety of symptoms which may follow a motor vehicle accident, for example, and include:
Neck pain - on one or more frequently both sides of the neck, either when moving the neck when sitting still or frequently both depending on the severity of the injury.
Dizziness - may occur when changing position or moving the head and neck.
Paraesthesia - aka pins and needles may occur about the neck, towards the head or sometimes down one or both arms.
Headaches - usually an unpleasant 'pressure' type of feeling, starting at the back of the head, either one side or both.
The cause of these symptoms usually relates to the excessive strain placed on the soft tissues and sometimes joints of the neck while the head accelerates forwards rapidly after an external impact, e.g. by another car. Most of the damage is thought to occur while the muscles, fascia and other soft tissues of the neck try, usually passively, to decelerate or slow down the moving head.
Whiplash Associated Disorder is also commonly associated with:
Disability - i.e. an inability to carry our everyday tasks, around the house or at work.
Reduced quality of life - this may occur to reduced activity as well as the ability to participate in sports and exercise, difficulty looking after children as well as difficulty sitting and concentrating at work, for example.
Psychological distress - low mood, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders are commonly associated with long-standing, undiagnosed and untreated WAD. Studies have shown that 25% may experience post-traumatic stress disorder, 31% a major depressive episode and 20% generalised anxiety
According to research, 50% of people who have WAD will not recover but will continue to report pain and disability one-year post-injury. These are usually those who have not received adequate treatment and have been left to 'wait and see' if they get better.
Apart from the significant personal impact, the economic costs of WAD are huge due to work absences, prolonged sick leave and personal injury claims.
The key to managing a whiplash injury successfully, to avoid the severe repercussions, is early diagnosis and proper multi-disciplinary treatment as may be required. Effective treatment would include specialised physiotherapy treatment along with appropriate medication and counselling if needed.
Part 2 of this article will discuss the physical and psychological assessment of WAD, as well as an evidence and experience-based physiotherapy treatment approach.
In good health,
Lorraine Carroll MSc Phyty, BSc Physio, CMA, MISCP
Chartered Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist