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Testing the Way Whiplash Patients Walk

Posted on: 10/12/2003
Mild whiplash injuries usually heal quickly. But some whiplash patients develop headaches, dizziness, pain, and vision problems that can go on for a long time. Balance control is especially affected. Balance control is complex. It involves the eyes, the inner ear, nerves, connective tissues, and muscles. Doctors would love to have a test to help determine whether balance problems are caused by whiplash or by some other condition. Many whiplash patients were injured in car crashes or on the job. That means insurance companies and employers would like to have a test, too.

These authors wanted to see whether whiplash patients walk differently than healthy people. The authors have done studies that showed differences in the walks of older people and patients with Parkinson's disease. So the authors put whiplash patients and healthy people through the same tests. Everyone did specific walking, balancing, and climbing tasks. Some tasks involved moving over and around objects. Some tasks involved rotating the head while walking. The tasks were done with eyes open and closed.

When the authors studied the motion patterns, they found some major differences. Whiplash patients had more body movement while they walked up and down stairs. The whiplash group had more sway while they balanced in certain positions with open eyes. When they walked while rotating the head, they had less sway. The whiplash group also rotated their heads less.

The idea behind the head movements was to create extra visual information for the body to process. The results suggest that whiplash patients have problems coordinating information from their eyes with information from the rest of the body.

The authors judged the tests to be very accurate in identifying whiplash patients. They had different walking motions than healthy people. Whiplash patients also had different walking motions than elderly people and people with Parkinson's disease. This may be a first step in finding a test to pinpoint the balance problems of whiplash.

Henrik Sjöström, MD, et al. Trunk Sway Measures of Postural Stability During Clinical Balance Tests in Patients with Chronic Whiplash Injury Symptoms. In Spine. August 1, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 15. Pp. 1725-1734.

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