Ask a PT: What is W.A.D. (Whiplash Associated Disorder)?

W.A.D. is the sequela that can occur after a non-fatal motor vehicle accident. It may include headache, neck/back pain, joint stiffness, paresthesias in the arms or legs, and/or cognitive impairment.  This can last for weeks, days, months, and in some cases over a year. The severity and duration of symptoms do not depend as much on factors related to the crash as they do on the symptoms that occur within the days and weeks after the accident. Recent research shows that the speed of the collision, the position of the passenger in the vehicle, and/or the direction of impact do not seem to be related how bad the symptoms are following it or how long they last (Walton 2013) . The factors that are related to the severity of symptoms are actually symptoms themselves. For example, the presence of headache at inception, low back pain, neck pain (a score of >15 on the Neck Disability Index), or an overall high pain intensity at the beginning are predictors for persistent pain and disability at 6 months following the accident.

If you have been in an accident recently and are experiencing any of these symptoms, you will first want to make sure that you have gotten cleared by a physician to rule out fracture, concussion, or other serious injuries. If you have gotten cleared, getting in to see a physical therapist is a good option to prevent long-term pain and dysfunction. Research shows that early mobilization and prescribed exercise can have a positive impact on symptoms of WAD, and significantly reduce the long-term pain and disability (Teasel et al, 2010).

1. Walton D, MacDermid J, Giorgianni A, Mascarhenas J, West S, Zammit C. Risk Factors for Persistent Problems Following Acute Whiplash Injury: Update of a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Orthopedic Sports and Physical Therapy.2013:43(2).

2. Teasell R, McClure A, Walton D, Pretty J, Salter K, Meyer M, Sequeira K, Death B. A research synthesis of therapeutic interventions for whiplash-associated disorder: Part 1 – overview and summary. Pain Res Manage. 2010;15(5).

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