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Whiplash & Chiropractic Treatment

The term ‘whiplash’ represents a collection of symptoms that occur as a result of a soft tissue injury of the neck. This includes the over-stretching and/or tearing of muscles, tendons, ligaments, disk tissue, and/or nerve injuries due to the extreme movements that occur during a whiplash event (usually arising from a car accident). We have discussed the mechanism of injury and the symptom complex that can arise in past articles.

So the question is – how many patients who sustain a whiplash injury actually improve and recover compared with those that don’t? In one study, researchers stated that 43% of patients will suffer long-term symptoms after a whiplash type of injury. More specifically, if a patient is still symptomatic after 3 months following the injury, “…then there is almost a 90% chance that they will remain so.” They go on to state that no conventional treatment has proven to be effective in helping these chronic cases. The purpose of their study was to determine the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment in a group of chronic whiplash patients. To do this, they studied 28 patients (20 women and 8 men, between ages 19-66, mean 39) who were injured in motor vehicle collisions over a two-year time frame. Their symptom severity was graded on an A to D scale (A=minimal symptoms vs. D=disabling symptoms, with B= nuisance and C=intrusive or partially disabling). Those in Groups C & D either had to significantly modify their work or they lost their jobs and relied on continual use of medications. The chiropractic treatment utilized in the study included spinal manipulation (adjustments), controlled resistance of muscles to improve stability and coordination, and the use of ice. Before entering this chiropractic-based study, participants had previously received treatment from an emergency facility and/or their general practitioner and physical therapy for on average 15.5 months. Initially, 27 of the 28 participants classified into symptom groups C or D and symptoms included neck pain (82%), neck stiffness (36%), and other complaints of headache, shoulder, arm, and back pain. Following treatment 26 of the 28 (93%) improved, 16 by one symptom group and 10 by two symptom groups and this degree of improvement was assessed and agreed upon by both an orthopedic surgeon as well as by a chiropractor. Seventeen (61%) improved to a point of satisfaction where care was discontinued after the 1st assessment with 4 of the 17 considering return for treatment due to a return of symptoms. Litigation was still pending in 20 of the 28 cases at the time the study concluded.

This study is very important as over 90% of chronic whiplash cases improved from chiropractic management well beyond the point of improvement obtained through standard emergency, family practice, and physical therapy. Other studies have pointed out that early intervention or treatment with chiropractic manipulation and management approaches generally results in a more favorable response compared with waiting for longer time periods. To be able to obtain this level of success after an average of 15.5 months is truly remarkable!

Chiropractic methods often utilized for patients with a “whiplash” injury include spinal manipulation (or adjustments), mobilization techniques (this includes stretching, figure 8 movements, manual traction), muscle release work (this includes trigger point therapy, myofascial release/friction massage, and others), and promoting self-help approaches (this includes exercise, home traction methods, computer station modifications, and other job modifications as indicated).


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