Radanov BP, Sturzenegger M, Di Stefano G
Department of Psychiatry,
University of Berne,
With the increased incidence of whiplash injury following the introduction of compulsory car seat belts, a large number of reports have dealt with the aftermath of this condition. Previous studies, however, focused on somatic symptoms on the one hand or considered only psychological or neuropsychological variables on the other hand, often in loosely defined or selected groups of patients. No study so far has analyzed the long-term outcome in a nonselected group of patients using a clear injury definition considering patient history; somatic, radiologic, and neuropsychological findings; and features of the injury mechanisms assessed soon after trauma and during follow-up. The present investigation was designed to assess these combined factors.
According to a strict definition of whiplash injury, we assessed a consecutive nonselected sample of 117 patients with recent injury who had similar sociocultural and educational backgrounds. The patients had been in automobile crashes and were all equally covered by accident insurance according to the country-wide scheme. Initial examination was performed 7.2 +/- 4.2 days after trauma, and follow-up examinations 3, 6, 12, and 24 months later.
At baseline, features of injury mechanism, subjective complaints, and different aspects of patient history were documented and cervical spine X rays performed. At all examinations patients underwent neurologic examination and cognitive and psychosocial factor assessment. At 2 years, patients were divided into symptomatic and asymptomatic groups and then compared with regard to the initial findings.
In addition, symptomatic patients who were disabled at the 2-year follow-up examination and symptomatic patients not disabled (that is, they were able to work at the pretraumatic level) were compared regarding initial and 2-year findings. At 2 years, 18% of patients still had injury-related symptoms.
With regard to baseline findings the following significant differences were found: Symptomatic patients were older, had higher incidence of rotated or inclined head position at the time of impact, had higher prevalence of pretraumatic headache, showed higher intensity of initial neck pain and headache, complained of a greater number of symptoms, had a higher incidence of symptoms of radicular deficit and higher average scores on a multiple symptom analysis, and displayed more degenerative signs (osteoarthrosis) on X ray. In addition, symptomatic patients scored higher with regard to impaired well-being and performed worse on tasks of attentional functioning and showed more concern with regard to long-term suffering and disability.