Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

My best friend is someone who makes a mountain out of every molehill. Every situation becomes a major catastrophe. These days it’s how she can't do anything because she has a whiplash injury. That car accident was months ago. How can I help her move on and get back to regular life?

Answer:

Chronic pain and disability from a whiplash injury is still the most common injury after a car accident or other similar (often sports) accident. Whiplash occurs when the head and neck extend backward and then flex forward in a rapid transfer of energy to the neck. Persistent neck pain, arm pain, headache, and other symptoms following such an accident have been labeled whiplash-associated disorder (WAD). The costs of such an injury (both direct and indirect costs) are substantial. The effect this has had on your friendship is an example of an indirect cost. Research is underway to prevent an acute whiplash injury from becoming a chronic, disabling condition. The focus is on identifying factors that might predict early on who is at risk for a whiplash-associated disorder (WAD). So far, nine significant predictors of pain and disability after whiplash injury have been determined. These include high school education, female, history of neck pain before the accident or injury, neck and/or headache pain rated as 55 or more out of 100, no seat belt use at the time of the accident, and catastrophizing. Catastrophizing refers to irrational thinking that something is far worse than it actually is. Patients who catastrophize see their current situation in a negative light. They tend to think that the worst possible outcome will happen. Catastrophizing is associated with pain intensity, psychological distress, and pain-related disability among individuals with chronic pain. It sounds like your friend may at least have this one risk factor affecting her recovery. Supportive friends at a time like this are important, but professional help with a behavioral counselor or psychologist may be needed. If you have the kind of relationship that allows for suggestions, you may be able to suggest some outside help for your friend. If not, you may have to set some limits in time spent together or time spent discussing health issues in order to preserve your relationship. David M. Walton, PT, MSc, et al. Risk Factors for Persistent Problems Following Whiplash Injury: Results of a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. May 2009. Vol. 39. No. 5. Pp. 334-350.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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