The Irish Journal of Medical Science recently published the results of a study undertaken by members of the School of Medicine of NUI Galway and Galway University Hospital following a review of whiplash injuries over a 15 year period. The study looked at patient treatment, average length for resolution and the relationship with litigation associated with the whiplash injuries.

The study reviewed the files of 301 patients, all of whom had been involved in litigation arising from the whiplash injuries from a road traffic accident.

Whiplash or whiplash associated disorders (WAD) arise from the neck muscles extending beyond their normal range of movement, which results in neck pain / stiffness, headaches, associated back pain and in some cases, limb numbness.

The study revealed some interesting statistics associated with the 301 patients (169 females and 132 males);

  1. 58% initially attended the A&E department in respect of the whiplash injures, with the remaining 42% attending with their GP;
  2. 100% of the patients reported neck pain with a further 58% complaining about associated back pain and 35% complaining of upper limb pain (shoulders, arms etc);
  3. The average time between attending the A&E / GP and then specialist review was 51 weeks, with patients being reviewed on average twice during the litigation process;
  4. 93% of the patients reported neck pain after 6 months, which places those patients in the “chronic” bracket. This is in sharp contrast to the largest study undertaken by the Quebec Task Force which reported that the average recovery time from whiplash injuries was 31 days;
  5. All patients had a follow up examination or attendance with a specialist for a minimum of 2 years;
  6. Only 4 patients needed surgical intervention, which is in line with the general clinical opinion that whiplash injuries should be treated conservatively by using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, mobilisation and physiotherapy;
  7. Data on sick leave was only available for 210 patients with 94 of them reporting that they took sick leave as a result of the accident with the average time being 4.5 weeks out sick;
  8. The average time between the road traffic accident and the last letter from the solicitor closing the claim was 2 years 11 months. Significantly, only 10 patients out of the 301 were seen after the last letter from the solicitor.

Given the low numbers of patients that returned after the litigation process had ended, the authors suggest that patient’s symptoms may either be related to the legal process or the simple proposition that the patient sees no benefit to returning for specialist review, given the conservative nature of treatment in most cases.

A full copy of the study is available here.