The Role of Exercise and Patient Education in the Noninvasive Management of Whiplash

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The majority of people with whiplash-associated disorder do not have neurological deficit or fracture and are therefore largely managed with nonsurgical interventions such as exercise, patient education, and behavioral-based interventions. To date, clinical guidelines, systematic reviews, and the results of high-quality randomized controlled trials recommend exercise and patient education as the primary interventions for people in both acute and chronic stages after injury. However, the relatively weak evidence and small effect sizes in individual trials have led authors of some systematic reviews to reach equivocal recommendations for either exercise or patient education, and led policy makers and funders to question whether the more expensive intervention (exercise) should be funded at all. Physical therapists, one of the most commonly consulted professionals treating individuals with whiplash-associated disorder, need to look beyond the evidence for insights as to what role patient education and exercise should play in the future management of whiplash. This clinical commentary therefore will review the evidence for exercise, patient education, and behavioral-based interventions for whiplash and provide clinical insight as to the future role that exercise and patient education should play in the management of this complex condition. Possible subgroups of patients who may best respond to exercise will be explored using stratification based on impairments, treatment response, and risk/prognostic factors.

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