Fear delays recovery in whiplash injuries

Fear and avoidance of activity may play a role in fostering disability in whiplash-associated disorders, according to a new study by University of Washington researchers published in the latest issue of journal Pain. This study examined the role of fear after whiplash and assessed the effectiveness of 3 treatments targeting fear. They evaluated 191 people still suffering from whiplash symptoms 3 months after the injury. Patients were assigned to one of the following three treatments: (1) informational booklet describing whiplash disorder and the importance of resuming activities, (2) informational booklet plus a discussions with clinicians reinforcing the booklet, and (3) informational booklet, plus a psychological technique called imaginal and direct exposure desensitization to feared activities. The second and the third group received three 2-hour treatment sessions. Those given psychological intervention reported significantly less post-treatment pain severity compared with those given a brochure or brochure and discussion. Reduction in fear was the most important predictor of improvement, followed by reductions in pain and depression. The authors concluded that the results highlight the importance of fear in individuals with persistent whiplash injury symptoms and suggest the importance of addressing fear through exposure therapy and educational interventions to improve function.

Photo credit: JulieMauskop.com

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