The association between exposure to a rear-end collision and future health complaints

J Clin Epidemiol. 2001 Aug;54(8):851-6. doi: 10.1016/s0895-4356(00)00369-3.


Different symptoms, together with neck pain, have been attributed to persons with persistent complaints after a previous motor vehicle crash (MVC) and are sometimes referred to as the "late whiplash syndrome." A cohort study was conducted to determine whether exposure to a rear-end collision, with or without whiplash injury, is associated with future health complaints. The results regarding future neck or shoulder pain have previously been described, and the objective of the present report was to focus on outcomes other than neck pain. Included in the study were persons 18 to 65 years of age and covered by traffic insurance at one of the largest insurance companies in Sweden. Claim reports were collected from the period November 1987 to April 1988. Drivers exposed to a rear-end collision were divided into two subgroups: those with reported whiplash injury (n = 232) and those without reported whiplash injury (n = 204). For comparison, 3688 subjects who were unexposed to MVCs were selected, with consideration taken to the age and gender distribution in the exposed subgroups. The prevalence of different health complaints among the study subjects was estimated according to a mailed questionnaire at follow-up in 1994, 7 years after the rear-end collision. When exposed subjects with whiplash injury were compared to unexposed subjects, increased relative risks in the range of 1.6-3.7 were seen for headache, thoracic and low back pain, as well as for fatigue, sleep disturbances and ill health. No corresponding increased risks were found among the exposed subjects without reported whiplash injury. We conclude that rear-end collisions resulting in reported whiplash injuries seem to have a substantial impact on health complaints, even a long time after the collision. There is a need to identify factors that predict a non-favorable outcome in order to improve clinical management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Time Factors
  • Whiplash Injuries / complications*
  • Whiplash Injuries / epidemiology