Although the insurance injury has trivialized this type of injury by often referring to it as a “just a whiplash”, serious and permanent injuries are relatively common. The word “whiplash” was first used by Dr. Harold E. Crow back in 1928 to describe the sudden jolting of the head and neck in rear end automobile crashes. It is described as the head and neck lagging behind when the body is suddenly pushed forward by the seat back. The head and neck then snap forward as the body surpasses the speed of the decelerating car and are then stopped instantly by the seat belt and shoulder harness. Unfortunately, the pain and stiffness that often result from such an injury, often lack any external or x-ray evidence.
This injury is referred to in medical circles as a hyperflexion-hyperextension sprain/strain.
There are three grades of sprains/strains. Grade 1- is an overstretching that usually resolves without permanent problems. Grade 2- is a partial tearing of the ligament or muscle that does not heal, but repairs itself with internal scar tissue that causes stiffness and pain, leaving the joints unstable. This is a permanent injury. Grade 3- is a complete tear of the ligament, which could require surgery. This leaves the joint very unstable and is also a permanent injury. During treatment, some doctors do not differentiate between grades 1, 2 or 3. It is important to have your doctor make a diagnosis of what grade your sprain or strain is. This will help determine the permanency.
There are some factors that seem to make this type of injury worse. First of all, women are twice as likely to suffer a whiplash injury in a given accident, probably because their necks are slimmer and less muscular and therefore less able to protect the delicate structures inside. People over 30 or 40 years of age are far more likely to suffer a permanent injury than younger folks. Also, if you head is turned at the time of the collision or if there is a rotational component to the rear end collision (being struck and having your car spun as well as pushed forward) injuries seem to be worse.
In our next post, we will talk about the types of symptoms and injuries that people suffer as a result of rear end collision whiplashes.