Why chronic auto accident pain may linger long after the crash

Although the number of motor vehicle collisions, and those reporting an injury after an accident, have decreased in the past decade, this data fails to tell the entire story. “Ninety percent of patients seen in the emergency department after motor vehicle collisions are not admitted,” says Ana Bermudez, a clinical research coordinator at the University of North Carolina (UNC). This makes it difficult to track the true number of injuries, especially those resulting in lingering pain. Even worse, according to Bermudez, is that chronic post-motor vehicle collision pain develops in 20 to 40 percent of these same individuals who never reported an injury.

The persistent pain that often accompanies whiplash and other musculoskeletal injuries resulting from accidents often develop or worsen long after the accident is over. And recent studies show that one’s emotional recovery may actually influence chronic pain. University research reported by the Practical Pain Management journal found that poor expectations of recovery following motor vehicle accidents is actually a powerful predictor of adverse pain outcomes. In fact, the study found that acute pain and psychological symptoms are the dominant predictors of physical and emotional recovery. Those with a more optimistic outlook and sense of health prior to their accidents actually had less pain and shorter recovery times.

Another study reported that the amount and severity of pain that you experience following an auto accident may depend on your genetics. The TRYUMPH Research Program study found that inherited genetic variations affected participants’ response to pain intensity, both immediately following the accident and up to six weeks later. Research conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health showed a correlation between the emotional and psychological trauma experienced in a motor vehicle accident and the actual levels of chronic physical pain. In fact, they report that as many as 50 percent of those suffering chronic headaches and other pain following an accident were also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from the event, which also impaired the accident victim’s ability to cope with their pain.

“The findings are important because currently patients who experience persistent pain, who don’t have things you can see that are obviously damaged, are often viewed with lots of suspicion and they don’t get the treatment they need,” says Dr. Samuel McLean, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at UNC.

“The one thing we’re learning is that the physiological machinery that’s activated when one is exposed to a life-threatening situation, such as a car crash or a very stressful situation, can lead to persistent pain if things don’t go just right,” says McLean.

The research into the various factors that contribute to auto accident pain may eventually open doors to new ways of tailoring pain treatments for patients to better ease their suffering, according to Dr. John Dombrowski, an expert in pain management and director of the Privia Medical Group’s Washington Pain Center located in our nation’s capital.  “This kind of information helps me make sense of how to better deliver care,” says Dombrowski.

If you or someone you love were injured in a car accident, contact a knowledgeable Denver auto accident lawyer who can help evaluate your individual case and ensure your legal rights are protected.

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