Physical and psychological factors maintain long-term predictive capacity post-whiplash injury

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Abstract

Higher initial levels of pain and disability, older age, cold hyperalgesia, impaired sympathetic vasoconstriction and moderate post-traumatic stress symptoms have been shown to be associated with poor outcome 6 months following whiplash injury. This study prospectively investigated the predictive capacity of these variables at a long-term follow-up. Sixty-five of an initial cohort of 76 acutely injured whiplash participants were followed to 2–3 years post-accident. Motor function (ROM; kinaesthetic sense; activity of the superficial neck flexors (EMG) during cranio-cervical flexion), quantitative sensory testing (pressure, thermal pain thresholds and brachial plexus provocation test), sympathetic vasoconstrictor responses and psychological distress (GHQ-28, TSK and IES) were measured. The outcome measure was Neck Disability Index (NDI) scores. Participants with ongoing moderate/severe symptoms at 2–3 years continued to manifest decreased ROM, increased EMG during cranio-cervical flexion, sensory hypersensitivity and elevated levels of psychological distress when compared to recovered participants and those with milder symptoms. The latter two groups showed only persistent deficits in cervical muscle recruitment patterns. Higher initial NDI scores (OR 1.00–1.1), older age (OR 1.00–1.13), cold hyperalgesia (OR 1.1–1.13) and post-traumatic stress symptoms (OR 1.03–1.2) remained significant predictors of poor outcome at long-term follow-up (r2 = 0.56). The robustness of these physical and psychological factors suggests that their assessment in the acute stage following whiplash injury will be important.

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