Whiplash and Other Neck Injuries Due to Rear End Collisions

Thousands of rear-end car accidents occur each and every day across the United States. Many times these car accidents result in an injury known as whiplash. Unfortunately, insurance companies typically downplay the severity of whiplash. In fact, the insurance companies have been so successful in downplaying whiplash that the term has developed a negative connotation.

Whiplash is a broad term used to describe neck pain following an injury to the soft tissues of your neck (specifically ligaments, tendons, and muscles). The term whiplash was first used in 1928. Its origins are from doctors who viewed the neck and spinal column as a rope or whip. These doctors noticed that in rear-end collisions the spine lengthens and the patient rises up out of his/her seat. As this occurs the lower back is propelled forward and your head and neck whip backward. The initial backward movement and sudden lengthening of the front neck muscles results in a reflexive contraction of those same muscles and causes the neck and head to lash forward. Doctors simply put the two terms together to come up with whiplash.

There are hundreds of scientific papers discussing injuries to soft neck tissue following a car accident. Here are just a few: Acceleration-deceleration injuries: ‘Whiplash Syndrome’, which described the risk of injury to certain muscle groups and how to protect children, and Simon Fraser University ‘Whiplash Study’ which showed that 60 percent of those who have whiplash will still have problems 6 months after the injury. Whiplash is not a theory. It is a fact.

For instance, a study by Yale University School of Medicine used cadavers to simulate what happens to the neck when a person is involved in a rear-end collision. The study revealed the three following things:

  • 1) In a rear-end collision the spine deforms into an S shape. This deformation causes compression in the facet joints, which damages cartilage and leads to pain.
  • 2) Damage to the spine occurs before a person is aware they are in a car accident and before reflexes can protect the neck.
  • 3) Damage to the spine and neck can occur in very low speed car accidents. The Yale University study indicated that whiplash could occur at speeds as low as 2.5 mph.

But what does this mean to you and your car accident case? It means that even in low speed car accidents, where there is little or no visible damage to the vehicle, there can be a severe neck injury. So, if you have been in an accident and you are suffering from neck you should be medically evaluated as soon as possible following the trauma.