Whiplash Injury Recovery (Part 2): Risk Factors that Prolong Whiplash Recovery

Last week, we talked about some dynamics involved with whiplash injuries.  Specifically, we talked about what whiplash is,  how long it can take to recover and when it is best to seek care.  Although whiplash recovery is variable from one individual to another, there are certain risk factors that can prolong whiplash recovery.  Let’s cover that in this entry.

Dr. Dan Murphy is a well-known chiropractic researcher who is an expert in helping to analyze studies related to whiplash injury.  One of his excerpts examines research in the European Spine Journal where a number of researchers examined the potential risk factors for prolonged recovery following a whiplash injury.

 In the study, they did a comparison of 300 randomly selected claimants who had settled their personal injury claims within 9 months of the accident and compared the data with 300 claimants who settled in more than 24 months after the accident.  The purpose was to look for variables like demographic factors, type of collision, the degree of vehicle damage, workers compensation, prior claim or neck disability and more. Below are some of the findings along with ours and Dr. Murphy’s analysis.

Degree of Trauma Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

It is unclear if prolonged recovery from whiplash is related to the degree of trauma.  Although this was surprising to us, a number of studies confirm a weak causal relationship between the severity of the crash and the prognosis of the case.

Age Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

Age ranges from birth to age 64 did not reveal a significant role in whether people recovered earlier from their accident claims. The exception was for subjects over age 65 where patients seemed to settle earlier.

Employment Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

A person’s occupation or lack of employment did not reveal a significant difference in early vs. later recovery.  

Type of Accident Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

Different types of accidents did play a significant role in recovery.  People that were hit from the front showed a significantly higher percentage of longer recovery times (80% late settlements) vs. other types of collisions (40-50%).  Although rollover accidents surprisingly showed lower rates of late settlement, the number of settlements in this category was small.  Other studies confirm these findings, but also state that side collisions can also play a role in prolonged recovery.  It should be noted that although front-end collisions are not necessarily considered whiplash injuries by definition, we thought the information would be useful to you, the reader.

Position in Vehicle and Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

The position of the claimant during the time of the accident (driver vs. passenger) was not a predictive indicator of longer/shorter recovery.

Prior Neck Disability Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

A history of neck disability was a predictive indicator of late settlement.  However, when accounting for multiple factors related to injury recovery, studies showed a weak predictive value.  Dr. Murphy stated that previous injuries heal with fibrotic (weaker and stiffer) residuals, rendering these tissues less capable of adequately handling and dispersing the forces caused by a new trauma event. This results in greater injury, more pain, more treatment required, and poorer prognosis.

Damage to the Vehicle Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

Surprisingly, the cost of repairs did not show a significant correlation to late settlement.

Consultation to a Solicitor (ex. An attorney) Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

There was a highly significant correlation (75%) between consulting a solicitor and the likelihood of a late settlement.  Although these findings could be interpreted that seeking solicitors cause later settlements, it is the researchers’ assessment that late settlement and increased cost of the claim may be the direct effect of the legal intervention and independent of the severity of the injury.

Seeking Chiropractic care or PT and Correlations with Whiplash Recovery

The results from the study showed that whiplash victims were more likely to settle late when needing and seeking help from a chiropractor or physiotherapist.  However, the study also showed that patients seeking this level of care were allowing greater time to lapse (up to 8 weeks) to occur before seeking consultation and care.  Dr. Murphy points out that, in his experience, injured patients often turn to chiropractic as a treatment option of last resort, after other treatment options have not achieved acceptable clinical results.  Our blog entry last week pointed out how seeking care sooner was essential to the recovery process. The lesson here is to seek care ASAP.


Overall, these studies show us that the risk factors for prolonged recovery are more complicated than originally thought. Although factors like the severity of the damage to the car seem like a good indicator of prolonged recovery, studies show that this is not the case.  Situations of whiplash recovery can vary and it is not uncommon for recovery to go beyond 6-8 weeks. Although it appears that people using attorneys to settle their claims are more likely to engage in later settlements, It has been Dr. Murphy’s and our experience that victims of whiplash often hire lawyers when they believe their insurance carrier is treating them unfairly.  When insurance companies deny further treatment for needed and appropriate care, litigation becomes a likely option. It then drags the case out and prolongs recovery. It would be in the best interest of insurance companies to design systems that improve and protect their clients before seeking litigation. As a side point, Dr. Murphy points out that a person’s bodily pain and their positive outlook throughout the accident can play a significant role in recovery.  We also find this correlation which is why we specialize in holistic chiropractic techniques that focus on the emotional patterns of a person’s health. Check out this video on the Neuro-Emotional Technique for more information and schedule a free consultation if you would like to know more about our approach.

Also, don’t forget to visit us the following weeks as we discuss:

A Holistic Approach to Examining Whiplash Injuries and

How to Identify the Body’s Priority to Heal a Whiplash Injury  

In service,

Drs. Richard Tran and Michelle Hsu

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