If you go on Twitter you will find that chiropractors are keen like mustard to promote the idea that, after a car accident, you should consult a chiropractor. Here is just one Tweet that might stand for hundreds, perhaps even thousands:
Recovering from a car accident? If you have accident-related injuries such as whiplash, chiropractic care may provide relief. Treatments like spinal manipulation and soft tissue therapy can aid in your recovery.
In case you don’t like Twitter, you could also go on the Internet where you find hundreds of websites that promote the same idea. Here are just two examples:
A frequent injury arising from an automobile accident … is whiplash. After an accident, a chiropractor can help treat resulting issues and pain from the whiplash… Proceeding reduction in swelling and pain, treatment will then focus on manipulation of the spine and other areas.
There is no question, chiropractors earn much of their living by treating patients suffering from whiplash (neck injury caused by sudden back and forth movement of the neck often causing neck pain and stiffness, shoulder pain, and headache) after a car accident with spinal manipulation.
There are two not mutually exclusive possibilities:
- They think it is effective.
- It brings in good money.
I have no doubt about the latter notion, yet I think we should question the first. Is there really good evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective for whiplash?
When I was head of the PMR department at the University of Vienna, treating whiplash was my team’s daily bread. At the time, our strategy was to treat each patient according to the whiplash stage and to his/her individual signs and symptoms. Manipulations were generally considered to be contra-indicated. But that was about 30 years ago. Perhaps the evidence has now changed. Perhaps manipulation therapy has been shown to be effective for certain types of whiplash injuries?
To find out, I did a few Medline searches. These did, however, not locate compelling evidence for spinal manipulation as a treatment of any stage of whiplash injuries. Here is an example of the evidence I found:
In 2008, the Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders (Neck Pain Task Force) found limited evidence on the effectiveness of manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture for the management of whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) or neck pain and associated disorders (NAD). This review aimed to update the findings of the Neck Pain Task Force, which examined the effectiveness of manual therapies, passive physical modalities, and acupuncture for the management of WAD or NAD. Its findings show the following: Evidence from 15 evaluation studies suggests that for recent neck pain and associated disorders grades I-II, cervical and thoracic manipulation provides no additional benefit to high-dose supervised exercises.
But this is most puzzling!
Why do chiropractors promote their manipulations for whiplash, if there is no compelling evidence that it does more good than harm? Again, there are two possibilities:
- They erroneously believe it to be effective.
- They don’t care but are in it purely for the money.
Whatever it is – and obviously not all chiropractors would have the same reason – I must point out that, in both cases, they behave unethically. Not being informed about the evidence related to the interventions used clearly violates healthcare ethics, and so does financially not informing and exploiting patients.