Objectives: Standard therapy in Germany for acute whiplash injury has traditionally included a soft collar (cervical orthosis), an approach that is passive compared with early exercise and mobilisation. The purpose of this study is to examine the recovery in the first six weeks of groups of acute whiplash injury patients subjected to two different treatment approaches, the traditional approach of a collar compared with active, early mobilisation.
Methods: Between August 1997 and February 2000 a randomised clinical trial with a total of 200 patients was performed. A total of 97 were randomly assigned to a collar therapy group, and 103 to the exercise group, treated by a physiotherapist. Study participants recorded average pain and disability twice (baseline and six week follow up) during a one week period by diary, using numeric visual analogue (VAS) rating scales ranging from 0 to 10.
Results: The initial mean VAS pain intensity and VAS disability reported by the collar therapy group and the exercise group showed no statistical difference. The mean VAS pain rating reported by the collar therapy group after six weeks was 1.60 and mean VAS disability rating was 1.56. The mean VAS pain intensity of the exercise group was 1.04 and mean VAS disability was 0.92. These differences between the groups were both significant, as was the reduction in the prevalence of symptoms in the exercise therapy group compared with the collar group at six weeks.
Conclusions: Early exercise therapy is superior to the collar therapy in reducing pain intensity and disability for whiplash injury.