Most injuries involve the muscles, discs, nerves, and tendons in the neck and back. Most people think you have to be in a car accident to suffer Whiplash.

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Hyper-extension/hyper-flexion injuries, in which the head “whips” forward/back or side to side. Most whiplash injuries are the result of a motor vehicle collision or as a result of a sports injury, particularly during contact; including swimming, soccer, football, bodysurfing, etc. Whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by the neck bending forcibly forward and then backwards, or vice versa. This mechanism of impact strains the soft tissue structures of the neck, which give a range of symptoms that lead to physical disability if left untreated or not treated effectively. Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) is a term used to describe a range of symptoms resulting from whiplash.

Pain is not always experienced immediately. Often it takes a 24 hour period for the muscle spasm to increase and the pain to set in and you’re left with a stiff neck, pain and a headache.

Following a whiplash injury, the cervical region (neck) loses its shock-absorbing curve. This tell-tale sign is visible on X-ray and is indicative of whiplash syndrome. The muscle spasm caused by the accident is so extreme that it is strong enough to pull the spine straight. This is not a natural position for the neck. It is painful and can accelerate long term damage to the cervical spine and associated muscles.

Incidence/Prevalence of WAD

The incidence of whiplash injury varies greatly between different parts of the world. Each year, approximately three million people experience whiplash injuries with only about half fully recovering. About 600,000 of those individuals will have long-term symptoms, and 150,000 will become disabled as a result of the injury. WAD is most commonly seen in male drivers between the age of 20 and 24 years and in passengers between the age of 15 and 19. Older age, female, neck pain on palpation, muscle pain, radiating pain and numbness down into the hands, arm and shoulder and headache are independently associated with a slower recovery.

What is WAD (Whiplash Associated Disorder)?

WAD is a term used to describe a range of symptoms resulting from whiplash. These can vary from no symptoms to severe.

WAD injuries are usually graded on a severity scale between 0-4.

  • Grade 0 No pain or discomfort. No physical signs of injury.
  • Grade 1 Neck pain, stiffness or tenderness. No physical signs of injury.
  • Grade 2 Neck pain, stiffness or tenderness and some physical signs of injury such as point tenderness or trouble turning the head.
  • Grade 3 Pain, stiffness or tenderness and neurological signs of injury, such as changes to reflexes or weakness in the arms.
  • Grade 4 Pain and fracture or dislocation of the neck.

(Quebec Task Force Classification of Grades of WAD)

Symptoms of WAD

Sometimes there is little to no pain at the time of the injury, depending on the severity of the injury. Following the initial impact there can be a gradual increase in the intensity of pain in the following 2-3 days. Pain is usually felt in the neck, and occasionally head and shoulders accompanied by headaches.

The following are the most common symptoms of whiplash. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Low back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the arm and/or hand
  • Numbness in the arm and/or hand
  • Ringing in ears
  • Blurred vision
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Irritability
  • Sleeplessness
  • Tiredness

Treatments for WAD

Research has found that patients who had Chiropractic or Physio treatment following a WAD had a significant amount of reduction of pain at six weeks and six months by comparison to those that had rested using a soft collar.

Rest, ice, compression, and elevation usually will help minimise the damage. It is important in all but mild cases for a Chiropractor or Physiotherapist to evaluate the injury and establish a treatment and rehabilitation plan.

Therapeutic exercises in addition to manual therapies the have been found to increase efficacy.

A severe sprain or strain may on occasion’s progress to more complex pain syndromes and chronic conditions. All types of whiplash require rehabilitation exercises and activity modification during recovery.

At Spinal and Sports Care, all our practitioners have extensive experience in the management of Whiplash Associated Disorders, and are extremely knowledgeable in Insurance guidelines to assist in all third party or workers compensation Insurance Claims, should the need arise.