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Test can help predict effects of whiplash

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A test of neck movement can predict which people with whiplash injuries will be disabled a year later, according to a study published in the June 26 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study also found that people who filed a lawsuit within a month after the accident were no more or less likely to be disabled after a year than people who did not seek legal action.

Factors including the speed of the colliding cars and the age, sex or body mass index of the injured person could not predict whether they would be disabled. The type of therapy first used after the accident did not influence the patients' long-term recovery.

The test of how far the neck can move can predict future disability with 91 percent accuracy. It's even more accurate — up to 94 percent — by also factoring in the intensity of the pain and the number of other problems associated with the whiplash. People with less neck movement, greater pain intensity and problems like dizziness, nausea and blurred vision were more likely to be disabled a year after the accident.

The 141 people in the study were involved in car accidents with a rear car hit, none lost consciousness during the collision or had amnesia after and all contacted the local emergency unit within the first two days after the accident with neck pain or headaches. Those who had previous neck or back pain, head injury, a history of a severe headache or widespread pain were excluded from the study.

It found that most recovered after a month. After a year, 8 percent of whiplash patients had not returned to their usual level of activity or work and another 4 percent had returned to modified job function.