Defense Myth that Car Crash Victims Recover in 6-8 Weeks is Exposed
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A surprising number of people -- more than 60 percent -- still suffer significant pain a year after a traumatic injury in a car crash or other cause, showing the need for better pain treatment, researchers said.
In a study published on Monday in the journal Archives of Surgery, researchers tracked 3,047 patients ages 18 to 84 from 14 U.S. states who survived an acute traumatic injury.
A year after the injury, 63 percent reported that they still experienced pain related to the injury, with most having pain in more than one region of the body.
On average, the patients assessed their pain at 5.5 on a 10-point scale -- a level at which they would be expected to have moderate to severe interference with daily activities.
""I was surprised that the pain was as common and as severe as they reported it to be,"" said Dr. Frederick Rivara of the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study.
""The implications are that we need to do a much better job of identifying pain in these patients, treating it adequately and treating it early,"" Rivara added in a telephone interview.
The people in the study sustained head injuries, broken limbs, chest or abdominal trauma and other injuries in motor vehicle crashes, falls and other circumstances.
Pain was most commonly seen in joints and limbs (44 percent of patients), the back (26 percent), the head (12 percent) and neck (7 percent).
Rivara noted that people who experience chronic pain are at higher risk for depression and for being unable to work or function normally.
""The focus up until now in a lot of our care is on whether you live or die, which is obviously important. But we can't just stop there. And I think we need to look at what are the things we can do to improve people's lives after serious illness or injury,"" Rivara added.
The American Pain Foundation, a Baltimore-based advocacy group, said the financial cost exacted by chronic pain in the United States -- including health-care expenses, lost income and lost productivity -- is estimated at $100 billion a year.
The group said back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under 45 years old.
""There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who have had traumatic injury when the focus has been the injury and the destruction of tissue and not the pain. Pain has been a secondary consideration (during treatment),"" said Will Rowe, American Pain Foundation chief executive officer.
""In many instances, the injury heals and the pain persists. That's the story that needs to be told,"" Rowe said.