Fibromyalgia is characterised by chronic muscular pain, unrefreshing sleep and fatigue, as well as a host of other symptoms. The condition may develop spontaneously (this called Primary Fibromyalgia) or as a result of physical trauma such as a road traffic accident (known as Post-Traumatic Fibromyalgia).
For some years there has been considerable debate as to whether there is a link between cervical hyperextension injuries (commonly known as ‘Whiplash’) and Post-Traumatic Fibromyalgia. Medical opinion is divided. However, in 1997, research* was published comparing the incidence of Fibromyalgia after whiplash injury with that following leg fractures. The researchers found that even though both groups were equally likely to have a personal injury claim pending, Fibromyalgia was 13 times more frequent following a whiplash injury than it was following a leg fracture.
Whilst I am not qualified to comment upon medical issues, the majority of our clients diagnosed with Fibromyalgia have developed the condition following road traffic accidents where whiplash was originally diagnosed.
From the solicitor’s point of view, it is very important to be vigilant in this regard. If a client has a whiplash injury, most solicitors will obtain a medico-legal report from a general practitioner or an orthopaedic surgeon. That may be entirely appropriate in the early stages of the claim. However, one cannot necessarily rely upon a general practitioner or an orthopaedic surgeon to diagnose Fibromyalgia and although the symptoms can appear very soon after the accident, it is often very much longer before it is formally diagnosed.
The key thing is not to settle the claim too early. If the medical expert expects a full recovery in 6 to 12 months following the accident, and the report was prepared after 3 months, then put the claim on hold and review the client’s progress with them periodically. Even if they do not develop Fibromyalgia (which in most cases they will not), clients who are going to take longer to recover, or who have developed some other condition, can be identified and further medical evidence obtained.
If Fibromyalgia is subsequently diagnosed or suspected, a specialist report can then be obtained, usually from either a consultant rheumatologist or a consultant in pain medicine.
* Increased Rates of Fibromyalgia Following Cervical Spine Injury, Buskila et al 1997