Management of acute whiplash: a randomized controlled trial of multidisciplinary stratified treatments

Pain. 2013 Sep;154(9):1798-806. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.05.041. Epub 2013 May 29.


Acute whiplash is a heterogeneous disorder that becomes persistent in 40% to 60% of cases. Estimates of recovery have not changed in recent decades. This randomized, single-blind, controlled trial tested whether multidisciplinary individualized treatments for patients with acute whiplash (<4 weeks postinjury) could reduce the incidence of chronicity at 6 mo by 50% compared to usual care. Participants (n=101) were recruited from accident and emergency centres and the community. It was hypothesized that better recovery rates were achievable if the heterogeneity was recognised and patients received individualised interventions. Patients randomized to pragmatic intervention (n=49) could receive pharmaceutical management (ranging from simple medications to opioid analgesia), multimodal physiotherapy and psychology for post-traumatic stress according to their presentations. The treatment period was 10 wks with follow-up at 11 weeks and 6 and 12-months. The primary outcome was neck pain and disability (Neck Disability Index (NDI)). Analysis revealed no significant differences in frequency of recovery (NDI ≤ 8%) between pragmatic and usual care groups at 6 months (OR 95%, CI=0.55, 0.23-1.29), P=0.163) or 12 mo (OR 95%, CI=0.65, 0.28-1.47, P=0.297). There was no improvement in current nonrecovery rates at 6 mo (63.6%, pragmatic care; 48.8%, usual care), indicating no advantage of the early multiprofessional intervention. Baseline levels of pain and disability had a significant bearing on recovery both at 6 and 12 mo in both groups, suggesting that future research focus on finding early effective pain management, particularly for the subgroup of patients with initial high levels of pain and disability, towards improving recovery rates.

Keywords: Acute whiplash; Multidisciplinary management; Randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Clinics
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Recovery of Function / physiology*
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Whipple Disease / complications
  • Whipple Disease / therapy*
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics