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Lancet. 1996 May 4;347(9010):1207-11.

Natural evolution of late whiplash syndrome outside the medicolegal context.

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Department of Neurology, University Hospital Trondheim, Norway.



In Lithuania, few car drivers and passengers are covered by insurance and there is little awareness among the general public about the potentially disabling consequences of a whiplash injury. We took this opportunity to study the natural course of head and neck symptoms after rear-end car collisions.


In a retrospective questionnaire-based cohort study, 202 individuals (157 men; 45 women) were identified from the records of the traffic police department in Kaunas, Lithuania. These individuals were interviewed 1-3 years after experiencing a rear-end car collision. Neck pain, headache, subjective cognitive dysfunction, psychological disorders, and low back pain in this group were compared with the same complaints in a sex-matched and age-matched control group of uninjured individuals selected randomly from the population register of the same geographic area.


Neck pain was reported by 71 (35% [95% CI 29-42]) accident victims and 67 (33% [27-40]) controls. Headache was reported by 107 (53% [46-60]) accident victims and 100 (50% [42-57]) controls. Chronic neck pain and chronic headache (more than 7 days per month) were also reported in similar proportions (17 [8.4%; 5-13] vs 14 [6.9%; 4-12] and 19 [9.4%; 6-15] vs 12 [5.9%; 3-10]) by the two groups. Of those who reported chronic neck pain or daily headache after the accident, substantial proportions had had similar symptoms before the accident (7/17 for chronic neck pain; 10/12 for daily headache). There was no significant difference found. No one in the study group had disabling or persistent symptoms as a result of the car accident. There was no relation between the impact severity and degree of pain. A family history of neck pain was the most important risk factor for current neck symptoms in logistic regression analyses.


Our results suggest that chronic symptoms were not usually caused by the car accident. Expectation of disability, a family history, and attribution of pre-existing symptoms to the trauma may be more important determinants for the evolution of the late whiplash syndrome.

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