Brief Whiplash Treatment Works as Well as Lengthy Therapy, Study Finds

FRIDAY, April 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Just one exercise education session works as well as expensive, long-term physical therapy in reducing pain in whiplash patients, a new study shows.

The results, published in the April 4 issue of The Lancet, add to previous findings that longer physical therapy programs provide little additional benefit over shorter ones in treating the neck injury. However, leading whiplash guidelines worldwide recommend extensive physical therapy for these patients, the authors of the new study noted.

"The need for an extended course of treatment for whiplash-associated disorders is being challenged, and our study provides further evidence that prolonged expensive clinical interventions for chronic whiplash injury are no more effective than briefer treatment programs that teach the patient how to self-manage their pain," study author Dr. Zoe Michaleff, of the University of Sydney in Australia, said in a journal news release.

Whiplash can occur when your head suddenly moves backward and then forward, as often happens when a car is rear-ended. Neck muscles and ligaments get stretched beyond their normal range of motion, and some people develop long-term pain as a result.

The new study included 172 people in Australia with chronic whiplash caused by a traffic crash. The patients, who suffered their injury five years to three months before the study, were divided into two groups.

One group received one half-hour consultation with a physical therapist who went over an information pamphlet about whiplash, offered advice on how to self-manage pain and outlined a simple exercise routine. This group also had the option of two phone consultations.

The second group had 20 one-hour physical therapy sessions over 12 weeks. These sessions included aerobic and strength training, stretching routines and posture training.

Both groups of patients had similar levels of pain reduction after 14 weeks, six months and 12 months, and similar levels of improvements in flexibility, according to the study.

According to the authors of an accompanying journal editorial, the "findings should not be interpreted as encouragement to abandon exercise therapy in these patients: The question is how and when to exercise people with chronic whiplash-associated disorders."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about whiplash.

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, April 3, 2014

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