While any sudden back and forth motion can lead to a whiplash injury, the most common cause is a motor vehicle collision. Because these incidents often result in litigation, there has been plenty of research on whiplash associated disorders that has produced conclusions that may be contrary to what some might expect.
CRASH SPEED: While it’s easy to see how high-speed crashes can cause injury, it’s more difficult to understand how injuries can occur at low speeds. While vehicular damage is rare when collisions occur at speeds less than 8 mph, experiments involving crash test dummies, high-speed cameras, and incredibly sensitive sensors suggest that the risk for a cervical spine injury in a 7-mph crash is 54%. While the risk falls when an impact takes place at slower speeds, a collision at any speed can still cause harm.
SYMPTOM ONSET: Even though neck pain and other whiplash associated disorder (WAD) symptoms can become present immediately or within hours of the injury, some people experience a delay in the onset of WAD signs and symptoms. This delay may only last a day or two but for some, weeks or even months may go by with little to no indications of a WAD injury. This is why some researchers advocate immediate evaluation following a whiplash event, regardless of symptoms. Obviously, if signs and symptoms appear, get evaluated by your chiropractor ASAP as studies also show patients who are treated promptly tend to do better.
HIGH RISK FOR CHRONIC WAD: While many patients will experience an improvement in symptoms within the first month, especially if they maintain their usual activities and receive prompt care, it’s estimated that as many as half of WAD patients may experience persistent symptoms up to a year later. The current evidence suggests that patients with initial headache, fatigue, shoulder/upper back pain, blurred vision, dizziness, or difficulty concentrating, sleeping, or swallowing may be at increased risk for chronic WAD and may require a more comprehensive treatment approach.
Doctors of chiropractic are trained to both evaluate and treat patients with whiplash associated disorders, often using a multimodal approach that may include manual therapies, rehabilitative exercises, physical therapy modalities, nutritional advice, and encouragement to continue to carry out regular activities within pain tolerance. If necessary, he or she may also team up with allied healthcare providers such as neurologists, physical and occupational therapists, orthopedists, and the patient’s medical physician.