Whiplash is a common occurrence that can lead to numerous injury conditions and symptoms. Before looking at the different injuries, a basic understanding of the mechanism is warranted.
Nearly 1/3 of all automobile accidents are rear-end collisions. It is this type of accident that is responsible for most of the whiplash injuries. A basic whiplash accident occurs when a driver in the front car is stopped at a traffic light, generally relaxed, and unaware of an impending impact. The rear car is moving forward and upon impact, the energy of the rear car is transferred to the front car. An object continues either at rest or in a state of motion in a straight line unless it is acted upon by an external force (Newton’s first law). Thus, the front car is moved forward by the external force of the rear car. The car seat of the front car pushes the occupant forward, however, many times the head is not supported properly by the headrest and the head remains stationary resulting in a backward motion relative to the body. At some point, the front vehicle stops (hitting another object or by braking) simultaneously throwing the body forward against the rapidly decelerating motion of the car.
The overextended head and neck follow in a slingshot motion. If the occupant is not wearing a seat belt they may hit the steering wheel or windshield. If the person is wearing a seatbelt/shoulder restraint the head will be thrown forward with a simultaneous twisting motion.
In collisions over 10 miles per hour, the hyperextension of the head and neck causes most of the damage. Research shows that neck extension of 120 degrees is not uncommon, compared to the 70 - 90 degrees normal range movement. Injuries also occur due to the compressive forces, on the neck, experienced during the hyper-flexion stages. This will be more prevalent in the car initiating the rear end collision.
Common injuries with varying degrees experienced in whiplash accidents are:
Patients suffering from whiplash should contact their Chiropractor or other health professional who can develop a program to help repair the injury caused by whiplash.