Research identifies swallowing problems following whiplash

Research conducted by a team from Kolling Institute has found that swallowing difficulties after a whiplash injury appear to be an under-recognised consequence of the injury.

The study investigated a group of 60 patients with low-grade whiplash, finding 50 per cent of patients reported swallowing problems within 12 months of their whiplash injury.

In 31 of these patients, there was a statistically significant worsening of their swallowing problems between three and 12 months post injury.

Clinical specialist speech pathologist and PhD student Danielle Stone said the study was the first of its kind to use a standard patient-reported outcome measure to investigate whether swallowing issues were an under-recognised condition following whiplash.

“Before our study, there was a small amount of literature suggesting swallowing difficulties were a possible consequence of whiplash, but following our work, we now have additional data linking the two conditions.

“Further research is needed, but this information will help in the treatment of whiplash by encouraging clinicians to consider a broader range of symptoms following a whiplash injury.”

The study also investigated whether swallowing changes were related to a change in volume of the pharynx (throat) as prior studies demonstrated a narrowing of the pharyngeal lumen in people presenting with persisting disability.

“Contrary to what we thought, there was no change in the volume of the pharynx in our cohort and therefore, no association with swallowing problems.

“Our investigations have played an important part in raising awareness of the conditions.

“As our study was the first to explicitly look at swallowing and whiplash using a well-accepted outcome measure, we now have more confidence that swallowing may be a feature of whiplash that warrants further investigation.”

The research has been published in the medical journal, Dysphagia.