Los Angeles Whiplash Attorney: How Does Whiplash Occur?

Los Angeles Whiplash Attorney: How Does Whiplash Occur?

Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer

October 1, 2013

Ellis Law Corporation

Auto Accident

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. If you have suffered from a whiplash injury it may be beneficial to speak with a Los Angeles car accident attorney at Ellis Law.

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.1, 2

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.

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

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
  • Others

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

Postural Impact on Whiplash Injury

The posture in which a person is sitting at the moment of impact helps determine the efficiency of the stabilization response that will affect the severity of the whiplash injury.

Sitting in a correct posture promotes an efficient stabilization response.3Sitting in a poor posture, particularly a “slumped” type posture, promotes an inefficient stabilization response.

  • See How Poor Posture Causes Neck Pain

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 Injuries and Gender

Women in general are more frequently and more seriously injured by whiplash than men due to the differences in muscular bulk and the female’s smaller bony structures. These factors result in less protection of the cervical spine to the abnormal forces such as those that occur in a whiplash-type of injury.

Other Factors Affecting Whiplash Injury

Risk factors influencing prognosis of a whiplash injury include:

  • Whiplash pain/symptoms persisting beyond 6 months (43% failed to recover on average)
  • Significant ligament, disc, nerve, or joint capsule injury.
  • Delay in initiating treatment
  • Need to resume treatment for more than one flare-up of pain
  • Occupant age over 65
  • Head restraint more than 2″ away from occupant’s head
  • Occupant in a small car
  • Alcohol intoxication at time of automobile accident
  • Pre-existing x-ray evidence of degenerative changes
  • Prior whiplash injury
  • Prior cervical spine fusion
  • Patient having initial radicular (arm pain, numbness, tingling) symptoms
  • A cervical collar used for more than 2 weeks.6

Common Misconception about Whiplash Injury

A common misconception about whiplash injury is that if the vehicle does not sustain damage in a low speed impact, then whiplash injury to the occupant does not occur.

In reality, low impact collisions can produce correspondingly higher dynamic loading on the occupants because the lack of crushing metal to absorb the forces results in a greater force applied to items or occupants within the vehicle.

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.

If you are a victim of a car accident in Los Angeles and have suffered a whiplash injury you may be entitled to compensation. Please call our offices at 310-641-3335 for more information.