The myth of whiplash

The insurance industry - especially the car insurance industry - is extremely fond of mockingly referring to a neck injury or a cervical strain or sprain as "whiplash". A lot of you have heard the stories and seen the cartoonish images of a person wearing a soft collar around the neck, usually accompanied by a lawyer who has his hand out.

Usually good for a chuckle - unless you are the one who is suffering from this "whiplash"; unless you are the one experiencing a charlie horse in your neck 24/7; unless you are the one who must rotate your entire upper body to look left or right; unless you are the one suffering from the blinding headache that starts at the base of your neck; unless you are the one who is wearing the collar to both limit the motion of your head and the jolts of pain in your neck and to support your head because your damaged muscles and tendons in your neck need that kind of help after an injury like this.

These types of injures are known as cervical strains or sprains. Strains and sprains are technically different, with a strain being damage to the muscles or tendons which connect muscles to bones and sprains are caused by the tearing and microscopic bleeding of the ligaments, which connect the bones to each other. This won't make much difference to you, because the pain and the disruption in your daily life is the same.

By far, the largest majority of cervical strains and sprains that I have seen in my 34 years were the direct result of the client being rear-ended while driving a car, which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Think about somebody coming up from behind you while you are standing, and shoving you in the middle of your back. What happens? Your body, from the neck down, is propelled forward, and your head snaps backwards and then forward. The same thing happens when you are rear-ended while sitting in your car - you basically become a bobble head doll. Your head is propelled violently backwards and then snapped forward. Although the head rest oftentimes will block your head from stretching too far backwards (always keep that head rest up!) the reaction to that is that your head now bounces off the headrest and is propelled violently forward, stretching the tendons, muscles and ligaments beyond where they were designed to go. The result is the stretching, tearing and bleeding of these connective tissues.

In addition, these rear end collisions can also cause a concussion and other forms of brain injury, because as your head is whipped around, bobble head doll like, your brain is moving around inside your skull, and if it collides with the inside of the skull hard enough, significant injury can result.

So the next time you see one of the cartoons or hear somebody derisively refer to a cervical strain or sprain as a whiplash, chuckle if you must - but keep in mind, when you are the victim, it is no laughing matter.

Call us if you have been the victim of a car crash such as this.