Whiplash injuries typically occur during a car accident, but they can happen during any event that causes your head and neck to move in in a violent manner. The majority of people who suffer a whiplash injury fully recover within a month or two, but for about 25 percent of the population, long-term pain and chronic pain persists.
Thankfully, we’re getting better at predicting which whiplash sufferers will have to deal with long-term effects through new MRI techniques. According to researchers, scientists can now predict which patients will develop chronic pain and partial disability within the first one to two weeks of the initial injury. They believe the earlier diagnosis will help doctors better develop a specialized treatment plan to treat the condition.
What The MRI Reveals
Researchers said the MRI reveals fat/water ratio in a person’s muscles, and unusual muscular changes one to two weeks post-injury can predict future chronic pain. The MRI uncovered that excess fat entering the patient’s neck is the key indicator.
“We believe this represents an injury that is more severe than what might be expected from a typical low-speed car crash,” says lead investigator James Elliott, assistant professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg school of Medicine. “This opens up a new door for research on whiplash. For a long time whiplash has been treated as a homogenous condition. Our study has shown these patients are not all the same; they have different clinical signs and symptoms.”
Elliott added that routine x-ray imaging does not reveal this fat infiltration, and the MRI appears to be an optimal route. Despite the findings, researchers haven’t pinpointed a preferred treatment option for whiplash sufferers who are at risk for future chronic pain.
“We haven’t found an effective treatment for these folks with chronic whiplash,” said Elliott.
Although they are still working on a solution, researchers said the findings are important because they help prove to whiplash sufferers that their chronic pain isn’t just in their head.
“If you’re a whiplash patient with ongoing chronic pain, but no objective imaging finds anything wrong, people are frequently informed that nothing is wrong with them,” Elliott says “It’s been a huge problem. That fat appears to be a response to an injury. What has actually been injured remains for us to find out. But now we know to look more deeply into the problem.”
Related source: Northwestern University