I was in a car accident (my fault) while out shopping with a friend. My friend tends to be a bit on the hysterical side normally. I felt terrible about the accident, but she hasn't quit complaining about the pain in her neck from the whiplash. I had a little stiffness and soreness for a day or two but that was all. Are these problems really just personality driven?
Beliefs about whiplash and anxiety-related distress can lead to pain catastrophizing. This refers to a negative focus on pain, whether that pain is real or anticipated. A person's pain is increased or amplified and prolonged because of the way they view every physical action as a possible source of pain. This type of thinking becomes a habit and leads to chronic pain and disability.
There is also a process called somatic illness beliefs that leads to somatoform disorders. Soma or somatic refers to the body. Psychosomatic symptoms refer to the mind-body connection.
Psychosomatic or somatoform disorders are associated with chronic pain, loss of function, and disability. There usually aren't any organic (obvious physical) signs of muscular or skeletal damage to account for the prolonged painful symptoms.
There is evidence that believing a whiplash injury causes neck pain is a good predictor of a poor outcome. There is also some data to support the idea that severe pain at the time of the injury is another predictor of a poor prognosis.
Overcoming social beliefs and modifying patient expectations about their recovery process could possibly help prevent postwhiplash syndrome. It may be helpful to identify people who have high anxiety related to the accident and injury and offer them information to reduce wrong or dysfunctional thinking.