Catastrophizing and Causal Beliefs in Whiplash

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Abstract

Study Design.

Prospective cohort study.

Objective.

This study investigates the role of pain catastrophizing and causal beliefs with regard to severity and persistence of neck complaints after motor vehicle accidents.

Summary of Background Data.

In previous research on low back pain, somatoform disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome, pain catastrophizing and causal beliefs were found to be related to perceived disability and prognosis. Furthermore, it has been argued with respect to whiplash that culturally dependent symptom expectations are responsible for a chronic course.

Methods.

Individuals involved in traffic accidents who initiated compensation claim procedures with a Dutch insurance company were sent questionnaires (Q1) containing the Neck Disability Index, the Pain Catastrophizing Scale, and the Causal Beliefs Questionnaire–Whiplash. Of 1252 questionnaires dispatched, 747 (59.7%) were returned. Only car occupants with neck complaints were included in this study (n = 140). Complaints were monitored using additional questionnaires administered 6 (Q2) and 12 months (Q3) after the accident.

Results.

Pain catastrophizing and causal beliefs were related to the severity of concurrent whiplash disability. The severity of initial complaints was related to the severity and persistence of whiplash complaints. Attributing initial neck complaints to whiplash was found to predict the persistence of disability at 6 and 12 months follow-up, over and above the severity of the initial complaints.

Conclusion.

The results suggest that causal beliefs may play a major role in the perceived disability and course of neck complaints after motor vehicle accidents, whereas pain catastrophizing is predominantly related to concurrent disability.

Conclusion.

The current findings are consistent with the view that an early conviction that neck complaints are caused by the medico-cultural entity whiplash has a detrimental effect on the course of symptoms.

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