Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD) is a term that describes injuries that can occur after a sports collision, motor vehicle accident or slip and fall. There can be a constellation of complaints including neck pain, upper back pain, headaches, dizziness and pain radiating into the arms. Most healthcare practitioners agree that a conservative, nonsurgical approach is the best method of treating WAD. Research studies show that chiropractic care tends to be very favorable for pain relief and function restoration in the treatment of Whiplash Associated Disorders.
It must be said that “whiplash” is more of a layman’s term than a medical term. It describes a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back and forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip. Of course, this violent movement during an accident, can cause damage to tissues of the neck, especially soft tissues.
Soft tissues of the neck include muscles, ligaments and fascia. Damage can also occur to the small joints between the neck bones, which are called the cervical vertebrae. These joints, called the facet joints, can become misaligned and moving properly.
There has been much research into Whiplash Associated Disorders. Studies usually address the immediate period following injury which is called the acute phase (less than two weeks), the subacute phase (2-12 weeks) and the chronic phase (three months and longer).
It should be noted that a consensus of research studies showed that exercise, and cervical manipulation and mobilization were recommended for pain relief and restoration of function in every phase of recovery. Perhaps surprisingly, immobilization and lack of movement, as one would have when wearing a soft neck collar was ineffective and may even impede recovery.
Chiropractic care in the treatment of WAD involves manipulation and mobilization. These two forms of treatment focus on restoring normal alignment and proper motion to the facet joints of the cervical spine. This helps patients to gain pain relief and the ability to restore normal function to activities of daily living which occur at home, work, and recreational and social endeavors.
Exercises, which are commonly recommended by doctors of chiropractic, focus on stretching and strengthening soft tissues. These exercises speed healing and pain relief and help, long-term, to improve upper body posture to keep painful conditions from recurring.
It is best if chiropractic care is initiated in the acute and subacute phases. Damage to soft tissues and the facet joints of the cervical spine have the best chance to heal when treatment is initiated in the first three months following an accident to achieve pain relief. Deleterious permanent effects like scar tissue, degeneration and arthritis are more likely to occur if chiropractic treatment is not administered early in the restorative process.
Chiropractic care initiated soon after the onset of a Whiplash Associated Disorder could make the difference between health or disability, comfort or pain.