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Traumatic Brain Injury After Vehicle Collision s Associated with Neck Pain.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Many people who sustain a TBI experience head and neck pain, which typically resolves within a weeks or months of injury, but in some cases may persist for years. Chronic pain is a serious health concern. It is known to limit an individual’s ability to carry out daily tasks, to increase risk of psychological distress (such as depression), and to reduce overall quality of life. As a result, researchers are motivated to identify the factors that put certain TBI patients at elevated risk of developing chronic neck pain after injury.

A recent study at the Medical College of Wisconsin investigated the frequency and predictors of neck pain in 95 patients who were admitted to a level 1 trauma center for mild TBI. Specifically, the research team evaluated patients to determine if their neck pain was equal to or worse than their other TBI symptoms. They also collected data about the patients’ injury severity, cause of injury, and other health outcomes. After analyzing the patients’ hospital records, the researchers found that:

  • More than two-thirds (68.4%) of patients reported neck pain within 72 hours of a mild TBI, which steadily decreased to less than half (41.9%) of patients by 45 days after injury.
  • About one-third of these patients reported that neck pain was among their most severe symptoms.
  • People who sustained mild TBI during a motor vehicle collision were more likely to have neck pain than those who were injured by other mechanisms, such as blunt trauma or falls.

Motor vehicle collisions are known to cause rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head and neck, often resulting in whiplash. People who sustain a mild TBI during a car accident are at elevated risk for experiencing neck pain, and many report that neck pain is the most severe (or among the most severe) of their TBI symptoms, immediately after injury and in the weeks following. Clinicians are advised to consider the mechanism of injury when developing treatment plans for TBI patients, and to address their neck pain early in the recovery period.

King JA, McCrea MA, & Nelson LD. Frequency of primary neck pain in mild traumatic brain injury/concussion patients. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. (2020).


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