Exposure to a motor vehicle collision and the risk of future back pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Paul S. Nolet*, Peter C. Emary, Vicki L. Kristman, Kent Murnaghan, Maurice P. Zeegers, Michael D. Freeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Objective: The purpose of this study is to summarize the evidence for the association between exposure to a motor vehicle collision (MVC) and future low back pain (LBP).

Literature survey: Persistent low back pain (LBP) is a relatively common complaint after acute injury in a MVC, with a reported 1 year post-crash prevalence of at least 31 % of exposed individuals. Interpretation of this finding is challenging given the high incidence of LBP in the general population that is not exposed to a MVC. Risk studies with comparison control groups need to be examined in a systematic review.

Methodology: A systematic search of five electronic databases from 1998 to 2019 was performed. Eligible studies describing exposure to a MVC and risk of future non-specific LBP were critically appraised using the Quality in Prognosis Studies (QUIPS) instrument. The results were summarized using best-evidence synthesis principles, a random effects meta-analysis and testing for publication bias.

Synthesis: The search strategy yielded 1136 articles, three of which were found to be at low to medium risk of bias after critical appraisal. All three studies reported a positive association between an acute injury in a MVC and future LBP. Pooled analysis of the results resulted in an unadjusted relative risk of future LBP in the MVC-exposed and injured population versus the non-exposed population of 2.7 (95 % CI [1.9, 3.8]), which equates to a 63 % attributable risk under the exposed.

Conclusions: There was a consistent positive association in the critically reviewed literature that investigated the risk of future LBP following an acute MVC-related injury. For the patient with chronic low back pain who was initially injured in a MVC, more often than not (63 % of the time) the condition was caused by the MVC. These findings are likely to be of interest to clinicians, insurers, patients, governments and the courts. Future studies from both general and clinical populations would help strengthen these results.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105546
Number of pages11
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Whiplash
  • Motor vehicle collision
  • Risk
  • Injury
  • Low back pain
  • Systematic review
  • 2000-2010 TASK-FORCE

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