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Renew Chiropractic | Article

Whiplash and How It Occurs

3/3/2016
A whiplash accident occurs when one motor vehicle strikes another from behind, causing certain forces to be transmitted from the striking vehicle to the struck vehicle. These forces are then transmitted to the occupant(s) of the struck vehicle, where they have the potential to cause whiplash injury.

Research Findings on Whiplash Accidents

Research both in the Biomechanics Laboratory at Yale University in New Haven and in live crash tests using human volunteers has shed relatively new light on the contortions the cervical spine (neck) undergoes as a result of impact culminating in whiplash.


Shortly after impact (about 150 milliseconds), the cervical spine undergoes what is called an S-shaped curve. In this configuration, the cervical spine, rather than simply being curved to the front in a normal C-shape, as it would normally be at rest, takes on an altered shape:
•The lower part of the cervical spine moves into extension (bent backward)
•The upper part of the cervical spine moves into flexion (bent forward).

When a whiplash accident occurs, the lower part of the cervical spine moves well beyond its normal range of motion, causing the potential for injury to the ligaments and discs in that area. The upper part of the cervical spine also moves beyond its normal range of motion, but to a lesser extent.Cervical Spine Reactions to a Whiplash Accident

There is an inherent stabilization response in the cervical spine that helps protect it from potential whiplash injury:
•The nervous system detects the presence of the impact
•The muscles of the cervical spine, under the direction of the nervous system, contract quickly to try to minimize the affects of the impact on the ligaments and discs.

If this stabilization response is working efficiently following the whiplash accident, there is a greater likelihood of protection and less potential for whiplash injury.
There are several factors that affect the efficiency of the stabilization response to whiplash injury, including:
•Posture at impact
•Overall physical condition
•Awareness of coming impact
•Gender

It should be known that some of these stabilization responses to whiplash are within the patient's capacity to control, while others are not.


Overall Physical Condition and Whiplash Injuries

The better conditioned the body is in general, the more efficient the stabilization response will be. This particularly relates to the condition of the nervous system, as a well-functioning nervous system is essential to a proper stabilization response.

Awareness of Coming Impact on Whiplash Injury Severity

Perhaps the most important factor that affects the efficacy of the stabilization response in relation to whiplash injuries is awareness of the impending impact.

Scenario 1: Aware of impending impact. This person is able to automatically prepare the stabilization system to respond quickly and efficiently.

Scenario 2: Unaware of the impending impact. This person cannot prepare the stabilization system, thus slowing the response and decreasing its efficiency. This person is likely to sustain greater whiplash injury than is the person who is aware.

This may help explain the findings of some studies that have shown a passenger in a struck vehicle is likely to sustain greater whiplash injury than the driver.4, 5 The driver is more likely to see the vehicle coming in the rear view mirror.

Whiplash is an injury to the cervical region of the spine when a great force causes the neck to go beyond its normal range of motion. The spinal vertebrae, ligaments, and muscles may be injured by this force, causing neck pain, headaches, neck stiffness, and/or cognitive difficulties such as dizziness or trouble concentrating. These symptoms may appear immediately or after a few days.



But if the response is inefficient, an injury is more likely, with various types of whiplash pain possibly resulting and whiplash treatment potentially necessary.