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Coping is the Key to Whiplash Injury

Posted on: 11/30/1999
Whiplash injury after a car accident remains a mystery. Some people have it; some don't. What's the difference between these two groups? Researchers in the Netherlands conducted a study to see if the difference has to do with styles of coping. They identified four different coping styles: social support coping, palliative reaction coping, expression of emotions coping, and active-handling coping.

Social support coping occurs when the victim seeks social comfort and understanding after the accident. This person shares concerns with others and tends to a have shorter duration of neck pain.

The palliative reaction style describes people who seek distraction and avoid thinking about their problems. They may try to feel better by smoking, drinking, or relaxing. People in this group typically have neck pain for a longer time.

Victims who show their anger have longer duration of neck pain. They fall into the expression of emotions coping style. The palliative reaction and expression of emotions styles are linked by feelings of fear and inadequacy.

An active-handling coping style is the style chosen by people who deal with a stressful event by getting right back to "business as usual." They don't let symptoms stop them from normal activities.

The researchers report the following results from this study:

  • Coping style in the first weeks after an accident predicts how long neck pain will last.
  • Men and anyone who seeks social support have a shorter duration of neck pain.
  • Victims who report neck pain, severe numbness and tingling in the arms, and headache for some time after the accident have longer duration of neck problems.

    The authors conclude that coping styles are related to how long neck pain lasts after a car accident. An early attitude of "act as usual" seems to shorten the length of pain and problems afterward.

  • References:
    J. Buitenhuis, MD, et al. Recovery from Acute Whiplash: The Role of Coping Styles. In Spine. May 1, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 9. Pp. 896-901.

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