THURSDAY, Jan. 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The idea that many people involved in car crashes are quick to "lawyer up" with an injury claim might be off base.
A new study finds that long-term pain is common among people who have been in crashes, but most of them do not take legal action.
The study included about 950 people who had been in traffic collisions and were treated at eight emergency rooms in four states.
Six weeks after their crash, more than 70 percent of the patients said they had persistent pain in one or more areas of their body. More than one-third had pain in four or more body regions, the researchers found.
Only 17 percent of the patients had contacted a lawyer six weeks after their crash. Among those who were not planning legal action, persistent pain was still common: 28 percent had moderate or severe neck pain, 13 percent had widespread musculoskeletal pain in at least seven body regions and 4 percent had a fibromyalgia-like syndrome, the study found.
"In the United States, if someone develops chronic neck pain or other pain after a car accident and they go to their doctor or tell their friends, they are often not believed or are viewed with great suspicion, as if their symptoms are not real and they are just trying to sue someone," study first author Dr. Samuel McLean, an associate professor of anesthesiology and emergency medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
"Our findings indicate that persistent pain is very common among those who aren't suing, and that only a minority of those with persistent pain are engaged in litigation," McLean said.
Nearly 4 million people are seen in U.S. emergency rooms after motor vehicle collisions each year, according to the news release. More than 90 percent of these patients are sent home after being checked by doctors.
"It is hard enough to be suffering from a persistent pain condition after trauma that is moderate or severe, or occurring across many body regions," McLean said. "Unfortunately, these patients also often have to deal with the additional burden of not being believed."
"Hopefully the results of this study will contribute to helping doctors and the public understand that these symptoms are common, including among patients who aren't suing anyone," he said.
The study was published online Jan. 17 in the journal Pain.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine offers resources on motor vehicle safety.