Expectations for Recovery Important in the Prognosis of Whiplash Injuries

PLoS Med. 2008 May 13;5(5):e105. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050105.

Abstract

Background: Individuals' expectations on returning to work after an injury have been shown to predict the duration of time that a person with work-related low back pain will remain on benefits; individuals with lower recovery expectations received benefits for a longer time than those with higher expectations. The role of expectations in recovery from traumatic neck pain, in particular whiplash-associated disorders (WAD), has not been assessed to date to our knowledge. The aim of this study was to investigate if expectations for recovery are a prognostic factor after experiencing a WAD.

Methods and findings: We used a prospective cohort study composed of insurance claimants in Sweden. The participants were car occupants who filed a neck injury claim (i.e., for WAD) to one of two insurance companies between 15 January 2004 and 12 January 2005 (n = 1,032). Postal questionnaires were completed shortly (average 23 d) after the collision and then again 6 mo later. Expectations for recovery were measured with a numerical rating scale (NRS) at baseline, where 0 corresponds to "unlikely to make a full recovery" and 10 to "very likely to make a full recovery." The scale was reverse coded and trichotomised into NRS 0, 1-4, and 5-10. The main outcome measure was self-perceived disability at 6 mo postinjury, measured with the Pain Disability Index, and categorised into no/low, moderate, and high disability. Multivariable polytomous logistic regression was used for the analysis. There was a dose response relationship between recovery expectations and disability. After controlling for severity of physical and mental symptoms, individuals who stated that they were less likely to make a full recovery (NRS 5-10), were more likely to have a high disability compared to individuals who stated that they were very likely to make a full recovery (odds ratio [OR] 4.2 [95% confidence interval (CI) 2.1 to 8.5]. For the intermediate category (NRS 1-4), the OR was 2.1 (95% CI 1.2 to 3.2). Associations between expectations and disability were also found among individuals with moderate disability.

Conclusions: Individuals' expectations for recovery are important in prognosis, even after controlling for symptom severity. Interventions designed to increase patients' expectations may be beneficial and should be examined further in controlled studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Prognosis
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Sweden
  • Whiplash Injuries / diagnosis
  • Whiplash Injuries / psychology*
  • Whiplash Injuries / rehabilitation*