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7th Congress of the European Federation of National Associations of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, Lisbon - 4-7 June, 2005


Whiplash associated Disorder is a clinical entity that is well recognised by doctors patients and the legal profession. It is however a clinical syndrome that has few of the characteristics that are normally associated with the epidemiology and pathology of injury.

The dilemma of Whiplash is the absence of hard evidence of any pathological process that would normally be considered evidence of a disease process.

Epidemiology exposes some of the gaps in the current models of whiplash. There are unexplained cultural variations. The different legal mechanisms of claim should not influence a physical traumatic disorder.

There is normally a clear relationship between the kinetic energy involved in injury and the tissue disruption that occurs. Experimental models using crash tests produce conflicting results. Studies of polytrauma reveal a very low incidence of post traumatic neck pain.

A range of opinions are available in the literature on pathology and biomechanical factors. Systematic analysis reveals the level of evidence for the establishment of the disease of whiplash in the 1960’s to be level two or three, while the evidence for discarding whiplash as a physical disease in the modern literature is level one or two. It is much harder for physicians to discard a cultural fixed belief in a disease that may never have existed rather than to accept the verifiable logic of modern models of disease.

Various historical arguments that have been used to support a physical basis for whiplash associated disorder have a flawed logic. The current best evidence would suggest that the acute phase of a whiplash disorder may be the result of a minor soft tissue injury, the natural history of which is recovery. There is little or no evidence to support a physical basis for chronic symptoms, which on the balance of probability are due to psychosocial factors. Whiplash is a ‘convenient’ model of illness which results in ‘gain’ for all those involved in its manifestations. It is a convenient disease.

Theses abstracts were prepared by Professor Roger Lemaire. Correspondence should be addressed to EFORT Central Office, Freihofstrasse 22, CH-8700 Küsnacht, Switzerland.