What Causes Whiplash?

While driving or riding in a vehicle, the occupants are normally not prepared for the impact of another vehicle crashing into them. Because of this, Whiplash and other neck injuries are the most common associated with auto vehicle accidents.

When impact hits, the neck is thrust forward or backward at speeds and angles, and all of this happens in just seconds. Your brain and body are not prepared for this, and it results in pain that can be severe.

Many people don’t realize until the following day that they have pain in their necks, and may not think it is a serious injury. However, it can grow into a big problem sooner or later.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be defined as a blow to the head that is sudden and violent, or an object piercing the skull and entering the brain. The symptoms can range from headaches and nausea to severe brain damage, or even death.

Accidents that involve automobiles, motorcycles, bikes, and even pedestrians are the major cause of TBIs in people under age 75. They are also the leading cause of long-term disability among children and young adults.

The most common thing we see in regards to these types of injuries are some sort of blow to the head. Most often, a person’s head might have struck the dashboard or another part of the car, causing a brain injury.

Whiplash Can (and Does) Cause Brain Injuries

However, sometimes victims undergo a sudden backward and forward movement, or jolt, of the head, called whiplash, in a car accident. This is a closed head injury that takes place within the skull.

Because it is not an obvious injury, many victims don’t realize that an injury has even occurred within their brain, and it is dismissed and never addressed. Therein lies the risk of long-term damage.

There is new evidence out now, however, that shows that these types of head injuries may indeed be something to worry about. I recently ran across a study in the Neurology journal that compared people with mild or moderate traumatic brain injury to others with no injuries.

The study found that a mere bump to the head does not have to be severe to result in thinking and memory problems.

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According to the researchers, even those who have suffered a mild injury to the brain showed damage in the white matter of the brain.

The researchers pointed out that most of the TBI research out there is focused on severe and chronic brain injuries rather than minor brain injuries. In many cases, victims of car accidents may believe that a minor bump to the head, or a case of whiplash, is nothing to worry about.

This study shows otherwise.

Some of the participants in the study had suffered clinically mild injuries quite often from accidents (i.e. falling off a bike). This is significant because 90% of all injuries suffered are mild to moderate.  According to the study, bumps like this can have lasting effects.

The participants, including 44 people with mild TBI, 9 with moderate TBI, and 33 individuals with no brain injury were compared while completing memory and thinking skills tests. They all had brain scans as well. 23 of the participants returned a year later for the same tests and scans.

The results showed that even mild TBI caused brain damage and lower scores on memory and thinking skills.

What the researchers noticed specifically in the comparison was this:

  • Those with mild or moderate TBI had damage to the white matter of their brains. This means there is a disruption to the nerve axons, or the very fibers that connect brain cells and allow them to relay messages.
  • TBI patients also scored on average 25% lower on a memory and thinking skills tests that measured verbal fluency. This was linked to the extent of white matter damage in the brain.
  • There was no difference in memory and thinking skills of TBI patients and healthy participants’ scores a year later, despite the damage still seen in areas of the brain.

This tells us is that thinking skills seem to recover over time.

The widespread damage done to the brain of some participants was more focused after a year’s time, in certain areas of the brain. In other words, the brain could be compensating for the damage that was done over time.

This is good news for victims.

In serious car crashes, doctors and emergency rooms frequently miss the symptoms of a brain injury while focusing on other, more obvious injuries. More than 80 percent of brain injuries are not even diagnosed at all in emergency rooms as the beginning signs of TBI.

It is important for you to be aware of the long-term effects of TBI. Some long-term conditions of traumatic brain injury include:

  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Visual problems
  • Sleep disorders

Some of the most persistent and common functional problems include:

  • Memory impairment 
  • Difficulties in concentration 
  • Deficits in language use and visual perception 
  • Difficulties in problem-solving, organization, and abstract reasoning 
  • Impaired judgment 
  • Delayed information processing 

Mood disorders, personality changes, emotional control, depression and anxiety are also prevalent with traumatic brain injury from a car accident. All of the various treatments available to assist a TBI survivor can be very expensive.

If you have been involved in an automobile accident, be aware that symptoms of TBI may not show up at first, and you may think you are fine. It is important to have a thorough examination regardless. There can be long lasting effects.

Most importantly, if you sustained a head injury in an automobile accident that was not caused by you, you need an attorney who is experienced with handling serious injury cases.

Choosing the right attorney for you is a critical decision and a difficult one to make during a time of tragedy. Many of us will experience automobile accidents during our lifetimes. Be prepared and protect yourself.