Vestibular and stabilometric findings in whiplash injury and minor head trauma.
Vertigo and postural instability following whiplash and/or minor head injuries is very frequent. According to some authors, post-whiplash vertigo cannot be caused by real injury to vestibular structures; other authors maintain that vestibular damage is possible even in the case of isolated whiplash, with vascular or post-traumatic involvement. Furthermore, many of the balance disorders reported after trauma can be justified by post-traumatic modification to the cervical proprioceptive input, with consequent damage to the vestibular spinal reflex. The aim of this study was to evaluate the vestibular condition and postural status in a group of patients (Group A, n = 90) affected with balance disorders following whiplash, and in a second group (Group B, n = 20) with balance disorders after minor head injury associated with whiplash. Both groups were submitted to videonystagmography (VNG) and stabilometric investigation (open eyes - O E, closed eyes - CE, closed eyes with head retroflexed - CER) within 15 days of their injuries and repeated within 10 days after conclusion of cervical physiotherapy treatment. The VNG tests revealed vestibulopathy in 19% of cases in Group A (11% peripheral, 5% central, 3% in an undefined site) and in 60% of subjects in Group B (50% peripheral, 10% central). At the follow-up examination, all cases of non-compensated labyrinth deficit showed signs of compensation, while there were two cases (2%) in Group A and one case (5%) in Group B of PPV. As far as the altered posturographic recordings are concerned, while there was no specific pattern in the two groups, they were clearly pathologic, especially during CER. Both in OE and in CE there was an increase in the surface values and in those pertaining to shifting of the gravity centre on the sagittal plane, which was even more evident during CER. In Group A, the pre-post-physiotherapy comparison of CER results showed that there was a statistically significant improvement in the majority of the parameters after treatment. Moreover, in Group B there was frequent lateral shifting of the centre of gravity that was probably linked with the high percentage of labyrinth deficits. The comparison between the first and second stabilometric examinations was statistically significant only in those parameters referring to gravity centre shifting on the frontal plane, which was probably due to the progressive improvement in the associated vestibulopathy rather than to the physiotherapy treatment performed for the cervical damage. Hence, our study confirms that only in a minority of cases can whiplash cause central or peripheral vestibulopathy, and that this is more probable after minor head injury associated with whiplash. In addition, our data confirm that static stabilometry is fundamental for assessing postural deficits following a cervical proprioceptive disorder. In these cases, in fact, analysis of the different parameters and the indices referring to cervical interference not only permits evaluation of altered postural performance, but also detects and quantifies destabilisation activity within the cervical proprioceptive component.