The American Chiropractic Association defines whiplash as “a generic term applied to injuries of the neck caused when the neck is suddenly and/or violently jolted in one direction and then another, creating a whip-like movement.” Whiplash is most commonly seen in people involved in motor vehicle accidents, but it can also occur from falls, sports injuries, work injuries, and other incidents. Whiplash is also termed as hyperflexion, hyperextension and soft tissue neck injuries. During a typical rear end collision the vehicle that is struck is subject to a forceful forward acceleration. The occupant is pushed forward by the seat back and the head lags behind due to its inertia. The head is subject to a swift rearward translational motion followed by an extension motion. At a later stage the head and torso will rebound forward and hit the seat belt, flexing the neck. The common indicators or symptoms that there is injury in the neck are pain and stiffness in the neck area. A person would have difficulty or discomfort when turning their head. If untreated properly, patients may suffer chronic headaches, neck pain and back pain. This usually manifests 24 hours after a car accident. Most people do not report or seek treatment for neck injury thinking it is bearable and the pain would probably go away in few days or weeks. Soft tissue injuries are difficult to see. It is best to seek medical treatment after a car accident.
The doctor will make use of the following factors to make an accurate diagnosis:
- the speed of onset of pain;
- initial severity;
- the presence of arm pain or parasthesia;
- whether the patient was aware the vehicle was about to be struck;
- whether the vehicle was stationary;
- whether the handbrake was on;
- whether the patient was wearing a seatbelt;
- the site of the pain; and
- restriction of movement
A medical professional will also provide a prognosis. This will tell the victim how long full recovery will take, which is important when assessing a compensation claim. Lawyers rely on these expert opinions in pursuing their cases.
Here are some interesting statistics on neck injuries:
- 22% of the non-fatal motorcycle injuries recorded by CDC from 2001 to 2008, are head and neck injuries.
- There are an estimated 272,088 whiplash injuries per year occurring in police-reported and unreported rear impact crashes. Many of these rear impact crashes are at low speeds. (NHTSA)
- Studies have proven that 45% of the victims remained symptomatic at 12 weeks and 25% remained symptomatic at 6 months. Even the most minor cases needed at least 8 weeks to recover. The time needed to stabilize in the more severe cases took 17 weeks. This means that neck injuries may take longer than 6 to 8 weeks to heal.
- Women and children are more vulnerable than men for neck injuries because they have smaller necks.
- Sitting too closely to the steering wheel or wearing an ill-fitting shoulder harness increases the risk for neck injury.
- Older people are also more prone to neck injuries since ligaments become less pliable, muscles are weaker and less flexible plus there’s a decreased range of motion.
- Whiplash injuries occur in all impact directions, but the risk is highest in rear crashes. Around 50% of the whiplash injuries occur in rear crashes, 30% in frontal crashes and the rest in other types of accidents.
Do not take neck pain lightly, especially after going through an automobile crash that left your car slightly damaged. Remember to always seek medical treatment immediately after an accident.
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