Head-Turning Research: Whiplash Reduces Neck MovementIf you have whiplash from a car or other accident, your doctor may gauge the damage to your neck area by checking how much you can move your head. Amount of movement, also called range of motion (ROM), has long been used as a measure of physical impairment for patients with whiplash; however, the research on this issue has been inconclusive. Doctors aren't sure whether neck ROM actually distinguishes patients who have whiplash from those who don't.
Do people with whiplash have different ROM and patterns of movement in their necks than healthy subjects? These authors compared 89 healthy subjects to 114 people who had ongoing neck pain (two months to three years) from motor vehicle accidents. This second group was said to have "whiplash-associated disorders." Participants' ages ranged from 18 to 65, with an average of about 38. The healthy subjects were about half men, half women. In the whiplash group, there were a lot more women than men.
To measure neck ROM, participants sat in a chair in a comfortable position. They moved their heads forward and back, looked to the left and right, and tipped their heads side to side (ear to shoulder). They wore special sensors to track how far they could move in each direction.
Participants with persistent whiplash had moderate pain and disability at the time of the study. They also had much less ROM than the other group in all directions. Moving the head forward (chin to chest) and back was the most difficult movement for people with whiplash.
Age also made a difference in neck ROM in all directions. The authors found that when taken together, ROM, age, and gender correctly distinguished people with whiplash from those without 90 percent of the time.
Though whiplash reduced neck ROM, it did not change the actual patterns of movement seen in this study. In other words, people with whiplash did not show abnormal kinds of movement compared to healthy subjects.
More research is needed to see whether ROM is related to the degree of whiplash. And researchers have yet to determine exactly how whiplash affects neck movement, be it through changes in tissues, pain, or some other factor.
Paul T. Dall'Alba, BPhty (Hons), et al. Cervical Range of Motion Discriminates Between Asymptomatic Persons and Those With Whiplash. In Spine. October 1, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 19. Pp. 2090-2094.
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