Background: Little is known about the effectiveness of treatments for acute whiplash injury. We aimed to estimate whether training of staff in emergency departments to provide active management consultations was more effective than usual consultations (Step 1) and to estimate whether a physiotherapy package was more effective than one additional physiotherapy advice session in patients with persisting symptoms (Step 2).
Methods: Step 1 was a pragmatic, cluster randomised trial of 12 NHS Trust hospitals including 15 emergency departments who treated patients with acute whiplash associated disorder of grades I-III. The hospitals were randomised by clusters to either active management or usual care consultations. In Step 2, we used a nested individually randomised trial. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either a package of up to six physiotherapy sessions or a single advice session. Randomisation in Step 2 was stratified by centre. Investigator-masked outcomes were obtained at 4, 8, and 12 months. Masking of clinicians and patients was not possible in all steps of the trial. The primary outcome was the Neck Disability Index (NDI). Analysis was intention to treat, and included an economic evaluation. The study is registered ISRCTN33302125.
Findings: Recruitment ran from Dec 5, 2005 to Nov 30, 2007. Follow-up was completed on Dec 19, 2008. In Step 1, 12 NHS Trusts were randomised, and 3851 of 6952 eligible patients agreed to participate (1598 patients were assigned to usual care and 2253 patients were assigned to active management). 2704 (70%) of 3851 patients provided data at 12 months. NDI score did not differ between active management and usual care consultations (difference at 12 months 0·5, 95% CI -1·5 to 2·5). In Step 2, 599 patients were randomly assigned to receive either advice (299 patients) or a physiotherapy package (300 patients). 479 (80%) patients provided data at 12 months. The physiotherapy package at 4 months showed a modest benefit compared to advice (NDI difference -3·7, -6·1 to -1·3), but not at 8 or 12 months. Active management consultations and the physiotherapy package were more expensive than usual care and single advice session. No treatment-related serious adverse events or deaths were noted.
Interpretation: Provision of active management consultation did not show additional benefit. A package of physiotherapy gave a modest acceleration to early recovery of persisting symptoms but was not cost effective from a UK NHS perspective. Usual consultations in emergency departments and a single physiotherapy advice session for persistent symptoms are recommended.
Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme.
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