Ten of the drivers and passengers received minor injuries in the crash, but there were no fatalities or serious injuries – at least no apparent injuries… yet.
Injuries from car crashes include whiplash (cervical acceleration/deceleration), strains and sprains of the shoulder, rib cage trauma, and low back strains and sprains. Often times, specific injuries are undetectable on clinical exam despite the patient’s complaints of pain.
For the clinician treating whiplash following a car crash, an understanding of this process is important if a favorable outcome is to be expected.
Here’s a synopsis of a study from the University of Alberta that looks at the relationship of a patient’s pain perception and recovery expectations.
Whiplash Pain After A Car Crash
After her Honda Civic was totalled in a car crash, Melissa Mucci was told she was fine because she didn’t have any broken bones or serious injury.
“My doctor said, ‘You’re young. You have whiplash. No big deal, you’ll be fine,’” says Mucci. But this was not her experience. Her back and neck were very sore and she experienced pain for the next two years.
“I didn’t have an injury, per se, but I didn’t have the same mobility in my muscles and joints. It’s hard when you experience pain, [because] nobody can see a wound or broken bone.”
Physical therapist Geoff Bostick from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine says situations like Mucci’s are very common and whiplash is unfortunately misunderstood.
His new study found that how one understands their pain is important for people with whiplash. For example, negative expectations of recovery, which represent one’s understanding of their condition, meant higher levels of pain later on.
Bostick and his team surveyed 72 people who’ve had a recent motor vehicle accident and tracked their pain for the next six months. He found that on average, the more negative the expectation of recovery was, the higher the level of pain experienced three and six months later.
What does this mean for people with whiplash and their health care providers?
“The study shows that even early after an injury, health-care providers can’t just look at patients’ test results—it’s important to understand the unique contexts of each patient and how they think and feel about their pain,” Bostick says. “These interpretations of pain are known to interact with the biology of pain processing. Thoughts about pain can be as important as what is happening in the joints, nerves and muscles in the neck. We are great at assessing joints, nerves and muscles, but we should not overlook the brain. Facilitating a comprehensive understanding of one’s pain can only lead to better management, especially self-management.”
Mucci is thankful Bostick spent time getting to know her situation before treating her.
What’s been your experience with whiplash pain after a car crash? Leave a comment in the space below to share your story.
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