Media Release


Whiplash study to identify risk, reduce cost

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Wednesday, 8 December 1999

WHIPLASH injuries are the focus of a new internationally funded study led by a collaborative team at Adelaide University.

The team has been awarded a grant by the Physical Medicine Research Foundation in Canada to identify the risk factors which lead to prolonged disability from whiplash.

Whiplash injuries are extremely common, particularly in motor vehicle accidents. In many cases insurance and treatment costs have exceeded $1 million per patient.

Little is currently known about the reasons why some sufferers of whiplash recover quickly while others can have lengthy, sometimes permanent disabilities. It's hoped that by identifying the major risk factors, people who are at risk of developing chronic symptoms could be targeted with specific treatment programs, thereby improving the cost-effectiveness of treatment and the quality of life for patients.

The Adelaide research team is headed by Dr Orso Osti from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery & Trauma at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Dr Richie Gun from the Department of Public Health, and a physiotherapist, Mr Grant Taylor. Ms Alison O'Riordan, a lecturer with research interests in the biomechanics of sports injuries, is project manager of the group.

In a preliminary study Dr Osti and Dr Gun examined SGIC insurance records of 600 randomly selected claimants for whiplash injury. Statistically, several factors were associated with long-term sufferers of whiplash.

These included: prior disability, early presentation to a hospital, front-end impact collision, seeking consultation with a physiotherapist or a chiropractor, consulting a lawyer, and having a concurrent workers' compensation claim.

In the next phase of the study, whiplash victims are to be recruited from medical practices and hospital accident and emergency departments soon after their injury. Each subject will be monitored over a 12-month period to help identify factors associated with lengthy recovery.

"On the surface, there appears to be no clear reason why many sufferers do not recover relatively quickly from their whiplash injury-no obvious neurological signs, and frequently no abnormalities to be found on x-rays or CT scans," Dr Osti says.

"Treatment programs are generally expensive and less effective in the long term, so if we can identify those people who are at risk of developing long-term disabilities we can direct such programs at them and them only.

"This project has major ramifications for the insurance industry world wide, and it may potentially save millions upon millions of dollars in treatment and insurance costs."

Dr Orso Osti
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8239 1889
Mobile: 0419 806 659

Ms Robyn Mills
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Media and Communications Officer
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6341
Mobile: +61 410 689 084

Mr David Ellis
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Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762