The Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) recently released a special issue on the topic of whiplash-associated disorders (WAD). This July 2017 publication followed up on the October 2016 issue, both with guest editors Dr. James Elliot, an associate professor at Northwestern University, and Dr. Dave Walton, an associate professor at the University of Ontario. This rare opportunity to have outside editors underscores the challenge that not only clinicians are facing when treating WAD, but the imperative need that patients with WAD struggle with on a daily basis. From an overarching perspective, the special issues highlight that WAD is not simply an orthopedic condition, yet one that encapsulates the physical, social, and cognitive aspects of the patient at hand, which works to complicate the treatment approach further.
Whiplash-associated disorders are common neck injuries, most often seen in motor vehicle accidents. In Europe and North America, WAD is seen in 300 per 100,000 individuals in an emergency room setting.1 The annual cost of personal injury claims in the United States alone is estimated to be around $230 billion.1 In addition, consistent international data suggests that approximately 50% of those who sustain a whiplash injury will actually not recover and continue to report ongoing pain and associated disability one year after the injury.1 This low rate of improvement underscores the idea that whiplash has other psychosocial components. A 2014 article in the Journal of Physiotherapy discuss that of those who have sustained a whiplash injury, many concurrently are affected by mental health concerns, as well. 25% of those with WAD have post-traumatic stress disorder, 31% have a “major depressive episode,” and 20% have generalized anxiety disorder.1 This combined psychiatric involvement leads to poorer outcomes, secondary to the elevated levels of disability, chronic pain, and physical activity that these patients have.
Talus Media’s Eric Robertson had the opportunity to interview Elliot and Walton recently to discuss the special issues, as well as the current landscape of WAD in a physical therapy setting. The conversation discussed many components of WAD, including the approach that clinicians take when treating patients. Elliot stated that:
“Considering whiplash as a homogenous type condition and treating it as a homogenous condition is really at the crux of really why we haven’t seen fantastic results of management strategies.”
The two also argued that therapists should not be looking at whiplash from a biomechanical or tissue-focused perspective, “It might be more valuable to take an approach that moves away from the tissue at fault, because so far that has proven to be a fool’s game, and move more toward the question of ‘what is the likelihood the patient is going to get better.'” Elliot and Walton did, however, state that they do believe there may be the involvement of some specific tissues in the body. “We do have some fairly compelling evidence that it looks like in some discrete number of people with chronic problems that their white matter in their cord may have been damaged or certainly involved in some of these changes in muscle structure and function.”
The two JOSPT special issues are available online from both October 2016 and July 2017. In addition, the full interview with Dr. Elliot and Dr. Walton is available on Talus Media Talks. What is your experience in treating WAD? Do you feel as if there is something missing in the treatment of these patients? Let us know what you think on our Facebook page.
- Sterling M. Physiotherapy management of whiplash-associated disorders (WAD). J Physiother. 2014; 60(1):5-12.
Photo by Vladlane Vadek