BACKGROUND: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms are common in chronic Whiplash associated disorders (WAD) and have been found to be associated with higher levels of pain and disability. Theoretical frameworks have suggested that PTSD and pain not only coexist, but also mutually maintain one another. Although the comorbidity has been subject to increasing quantitative research, patients' experiences of the comorbidity and symptom interaction remain largely uninvestigated using qualitative methods.
OBJECTIVE: The present study set out to explore the potential relationship of PTSD and pain in people with WAD and properly assessed PTSD after motor vehicle accidents.
METHODS: A qualitative explorative study of eight individual face-to-face semistructured interviews were conducted. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and analyzed using framework analysis.
RESULTS: Through the analysis, we developed three overarching themes. The first theme illustrated the complex and burdensome comorbidity with overlapping and transdiagnostic symptoms, whereas the second theme highlighted how several circumstances, some related to the health care system, could extend and amplify the traumatic response. The final theme illustrated symptom associations and interactions, particularly between pain and PTSD, both supporting and rejecting parts of the mutual maintenance framework.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings underlined the great complexity and variability of the comorbidity and the traumatic event, but also emphasized how experiences of psyche and soma seem closely connected in these patients. The results provide support for the importance of thorough assessment by multidisciplinary teams, minimizing distress post-injury, and a critical approach to the idea of mutual maintenance between pain and PTSD.