Car accidents happen every day! This idea has been around for a long time: your emotional and physical health before you have experience a trauma like a car accident has a lot do with with how much pain you are going to have afterwards. And that idea part of a more general belief in the power of prevention: that physical therapy is not just for rehab, but for reducing the need for it before an accident even happens.
This emphasis on pre-trauma health and the value of prevention has long been an iconic feature of physical therapies like massage and chiropractic, a bullet point in the sales pitch, a reason to pay for these services even when there’s nothing obviously wrong with you. That belief, once one of the symbols of how wisely alternative we were, is now increasingly mainstream, and increasingly based on hard scientific evidence.
Health status before accidents isn’t just “a factor” in how well you recover … it’s huge!
It’s easy enough to see how your physical health going into an accident would have something to do with how well you recover, but the “psychological distress” part is weirder, and strangest of all is that both of these factors are actually a greater risk factor for chronic pain than the severity of your accident.
All other things being equal, a severe accident is going to hurt worse than a lesser accident … but your mental and physical health going into it actually trumps the severity of the accident as a predictor of long term neck pain. Wow.
So a person who has a severe accident with awful whiplash may actually recover quickly and have no chronic neck pain … if they have no history of body pain and minimal emotional stress. By contrast, someone who has a relatively minor accident may be worse off in a year … if they went into the accident with those psychological and physical risk factors.