The Whiplash and Concussion Relationship
Whiplash associated disorders (WAD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) share symptoms such as neck pain, headache, dizziness, concentration deficits (mental fog), noise/light sensitivity, and fatigue. Given these common symptoms and the proximity of the head and neck, these conditions may be related. However, the current state of the literature and educational process continues to separate the two, which could increase a patient’s risk for chronic, long-term symptoms.
A 2021 case study illustrates how chiropractic treatment—which is normally associated with managing WAD—can benefit the TBI patient experiencing long-term symptoms, referred to as post-concussive syndrome (PCS). The case study concerns a 21-year-old male who had experienced a TBI one year prior and received no follow-up care. The patient reported periods of worsening symptoms with significant disability and functional loss. This is not unusual; more than half of patients discharged from emergency departments following concussion injuries don’t receive any follow-up care or patient education on the condition. It’s reported that up to 20% of TBI patients will develop long-term symptoms.
A thorough examination revealed a loss of cervical range of motion, balance dysfunction (vestibular, or inner ear), posture instability, and cognitive and emotional symptoms. Treatment included manual therapy (neck and mid-back vertebral mobilization), vestibular rehab (eye and head movement exercises), and neuromotor retraining (balance exercises)—all therapies provided in a chiropractic clinic.
Following eight sessions spread over five weeks, the patient reported improvement in nearly all symptom categories, as well as dramatic improvement on a concussion questionnaire. This finding corresponds to another paper that reviewed multiple cases studies of PCS patients who experienced favorable outcomes after utilizing chiropractic services that included manual therapies and rehabilitative methods aimed at restoring cervical spine function.
Unfortunately, TBI and WAD diagnostic and treatment guidelines were developed separately, and because there is no gold standard test to differentiate the two conditions, it’s possible for a healthcare provider to misdiagnose a concussion following a car accident or a whiplash injury after a sports collision. This may explain why a high number of patients from both camps continue to experience long-term, chronic symptoms.
If you or a loved one experienced a whiplash injury or concussion, be sure to keep track of all symptoms, even if they might not seem to be related to WAD or TBI as they may help your doctor more accurately assess your injury.