BACKGROUND: To address the need for a better treatment of chronic whiplash associated disorders (WAD), a contemporary neuroscience approach can be proposed.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the effectiveness of a contemporary neuroscience approach, comprising pain neuroscience education, stress management, and cognition-targeted exercise therapy versus conventional physical therapy for reducing disability (primary outcome measure) and improving quality of life and reducing pain, central sensitization, and psychological problems (secondary outcome measures) in people with chronic WAD.
METHODS: The study is a multi-center, two-arm randomized, controlled trial with 1-year follow-up and will be performed in two university-based and one regional hospital. People with chronic WAD (n=120) will be recruited. The experimental group will receive pain neuroscience education followed by cognition-targeted exercise therapy, and stress management. The control group will receive biomedically focused education followed by graded and active exercise therapy focusing on muscle endurance, strength, and flexibility, and ergonomic principles. The treatment will have a duration of 16 weeks. Functional status (Neck Disability Index) is the primary outcome measure. Secondary outcome measures include quality of life, pain, central sensitization, and psychological and socio-economic factors. In addition, electroencephalography will measure brain activity at rest and during a conditioned pain modulation paradigm. Assessments will take place at baseline, immediately post-treatment and at 6 and 12 months follow-up.
CONCLUSIONS: This study will examine whether a contemporary neuroscience approach is superior over conventional physical therapy for improving functioning, quality of life, and reducing pain, central sensitization, and psychological problems in people with chronic WAD.