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 What is Whiplash?

Woman with Neck PainWhiplash is the most common injury in motor vehicle collisions, most often as a result of rear end or side impact collisions. Whiplash causes injury to the soft tissues of the bone and spinal cord in the neck and back. These injuries are often preventable. The injury mechanism of whiplash is poorly understood, so it is the subject of intense global research. Whiplash injuries can occur in collisions at speeds as low as 5 mph (8 km/h). Because of this factor, it is important to remember that even if there is no damage to the vehicle in a collision, that does not mean there is no damage to the occupant/s of the vehicle.

Whiplash in Action

In order to understand what causes whiplash injuries, it is important to take a look at how your car seat and your body interact during a rear-end collision. Below you can see in slow motion the way your body moves when your vehicle gets hit from behind.

0 Milliseconds

  • Rear car structure is impacted and begins to move forward and/or crushes
  • Occupant remains stationary
  • No occupant forces

100 Milliseconds

  • Car seat accelerates and pushes into occupant’s torso (i.e. central portion of the body in contact with seat)
  • The torso loads the seat and is accelerated forward (seat will deflect rearward)
  • Head remains stationary due to inertia

150 Milliseconds

  • Torso is accelerated by the car seat and may start to ramp up the seat
  • Lower neck is pulled forward by the accelerated torso/seat
  • The head rotates and extends rapidly rearward hyper-extending the neck

175 Milliseconds

  • Head is still moving backwards
  • Car seat begins to spring forward
  • The torso is again accelerated forward
  • The head rotation is increased and is fully extended. 

300 Milliseconds

  • Head and torso are accelerated forward ahead of the car seat
  • Neck is “whipped” forward rotating and hyper-flexing the neck forward

Whiplash Symptoms

Sypmtoms of whiplash include:

  • Headaches/migraines
  • Stiffness/neck pain
  • Dizziness (nausea/vomitting)
  • Problems thinking or remembering
  • Numbness and tingling (arms, face, shoulders)
  • Jaw pain, lower back pain, hip pain
  • Impaired vision

The Financial Cost of Whiplash

Whiplash injuries account for more than 65% of all bodily injury claims (Navan et al., 2000). In Canada, whiplash injuries account for over 2 million insurance claims each year. In British Columbia alone, the economic costs exceed C$600 million/year (ICBC). The economic cost is measured in terms of lost work productivity, medical care, disability, sick leave and litigation. The following courtries are affected by whiplash costs accordingly:

  • Canada costs are about C$600 million (ICBC)
  • United States of America costs are more than US$8.5 billion (Freeman, et al., 1999)
  • Germany costs are Euro$2 billion (Langwieder & Hell, 2001)
  • Sweden costs are US$43.5 million (Holm, L., 1997)
  • United Kingdom costs are Euro$1.6 billion (Batchelor, M., 2001)

Whiplash is Preventable

When adjusted properly, head restraints can be very effective in preventing whiplash injuries.

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