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Psychology & Recovery From Whiplash

The Medical Model Of Pain

We are all familiar with the usual model (understanding) of pain.

We have an injury, there is tissue damage, this causes pain, the injury heals, the pain subsides, we go back to normal. That’s it! This works quite well for acute injuries.

This model assumes there is a close relationship between the physical damage or abnormality, pain and disability. In acute injuries there is. However, in chronic (long lasting) pain problems the connection between these three things is mysteriously weaker.

Psychological & Social Factors

Some people develop chronic pain. Some do not. Some people cope well with chronic pain, others do not. We need other explanations as to why these variations exist. Studies have indicated that psychological and social factors are important both in adjusting to long term pain and in predicting whether people are likely to get back to work.

Red and Yellow Flags

Medical professionals use flags as ways of indicating and measuring what is going on in various (usually musculoskeletal) conditions. It’s also a way of remembering to ask the right questions and to have an objective score to some extent upon which we can make our decisions about the patient’s condition.

Red Flags are risk factors for serious clinical conditions when we are assessing someone with spinal or other pain.

Yellow Flags are a way of assessing risk factors for work loss or disability after an episode of low back pain. This system was developed in New Zealand and if you are interested go to New Zealand Acute Low Back Pain Guide to see the information in detail.

Even though these flags were developed with reference to low back pain, many of the factors will likely affect recovery in WAD and are worth considering.

For more information see risk factors for whiplash recovery.

Cited Reference:
Moore A, Jackson A, Hammersley S, Hill J, Mercer C, Smith C, Thompson J, Woby S, Hudson A (2005). Clinical guidelines for the physiotherapy management of Whiplash Associated Disorder. Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. London.


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