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.