In my 30 years of helping injured people, I can definitely agree that whiplash is the most common type of injury suffered in automobile accidents. One study found that up to 83% of those involved in collisions were affected by whiplash and that it is the most common cause of chronic disability.
When the head is thrown back and forth, the neck absorbs the stress of these violent forces. Often times, the whiplash can occur in a third of a second—so short a time that the victim does not even remember what happened. These forces are capable of tearing and stretching ligaments and muscles. They heal with scar tissue and looseness that promote prolonged neck pain, re-injury and rapid arthritis.
Recent research shows there is a distinct pattern of findings that plague people after a whiplash injury. Those can include: (1) Headache; (2) Radiating pain into the arm; (3) Dizziness; (4) Problems chewing or swallowing; (5) Visual disturbances, such as blurred vision; (6) Reduced coordination; (7) Fatigue; (8) Reduced energy; (9) Trouble concentrating; (10) Depression; (11) Irritability; (12) Sleep disorders; (13) Ringing in the ears; (14) Jaw pain. Doctors also find muscle spasm in the neck and points of pain called “trigger points.” Another finding in patients who have suffered a whiplash is reduced range of motion in the neck. The amount of reduced range of motion is a very good indicator of how much permanent injury there will be.
Some suffer spinal cord injuries in the neck. These are more common in people who already had degenerative changes in their spine, a narrow spinal canal or limited neck mobility.
Whiplashes can cause injuries to the shock absorbing discs located between the bones in the neck. One study indicated that 25% of whiplash victims get herniated discs, 20% have some symptoms of pain going down there arms and 39% have degeneration within 5-10 years after the injury. When significant spinal injuries were reported, 72% revealed neck disc hearniations, 23% revealed low back herniations and 18 % revealed spinal fractures.
Actual injury to the brain or parts of the brain can be caused by a whiplash. Problems with concentration, emotion or difficulty sleeping can be signs of damage to the brain and brain stem structures. These injuries are often caused when rapid acceleration and deceleration of the skull cause the brain to “smack” into the internal bumpy structures of the skull. These injuries are often called concussions. Another type of brain injury suffered in whiplash accidents is described as “diffuse axonal injury.” When the brain is thrown about with sufficient force, some of the nerve endings are torn apart, releasing chemicals from the nerve damage. Symptoms can include pain, memory loss, seizures and coma.
Whiplash injuries are made worse by several factors. For example, women suffer more from these injuries as do people that already have damage to their spine. People with previous neck surgery or pre-existing arthritis in the neck suffer more injury in a whiplash.
Everyone should do what they can to protect themselves from these injuries by applying some of the strategies listed in Post #2. If a whiplash injury is sustained, you should not take it lightly and be careful when you speak with your medical providers to list every injury problem or change in your condition that you have noticed since the accident, whether it is obviously related to accident or not. It is important that all problems be repeatedly reported on every visit. A following post will describe the differences in medical/legal treatment and regular trips to the doctor.