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Whiplash – Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does everyone who is in a road traffic accident get whiplash?

A. Although, whiplash is commonly experienced by those involved in a car crash many people will walk away from an accidents without any injury. However, over 250,000 people each year do suffer whiplash injury, most of them as a result of a car crash, and about a tenth of this number will go on to suffer permanent disability as a result of the accident.

Q. Why do some people suffer worse injury than others in the same car crash?

A. There are different factors that have some bearing on the risk of injury to an individual. The main ones are human variables such as the height, weight, age, build, the state of health of a person and any history of previous trauma. Where a person is seated within the vehicle and the position of their head and body at the time of the impact will also have an effect on whether a person will suffer injury or not.

Q. Why have I suffered injury when there is so little damage to the car?

A. There are many different factors that can make the difference between someone walking away from a horrific crash where there has been massive damage to the car and someone involved in a relatively minor accident, with little or no damage to the vehicle, suffering injury. The type of seat and seat belt, the position of the person, where they are sat in the car, where they are looking and the point of impact, as well as the person’s height, weight, age etc will have some effect upon the likelihood of injury.

Q. Why didn’t I feel any pain until a few days after the car crash?

A. The pain and symptoms of whiplash injury are often delayed because it is the soft tissues of the neck i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments and discs that are stretched and torn. The tearing and stretching causes an inflammatory action which takes often takes time to develop.

Q. Can children suffer whiplash?

A. Absolutely, sadly though these are often overlooked because children don’t have the language skills necessary to explain their symptoms. Because the spine does not fully develop until a person has reached their mid-twenties, if a child’s injury is not detected it could cause them problems in later life. The correct use of child restraint systems will dramatically reduce the risk of injury to children.

Q. Why am I suffering pain when my x-rays are normal?

A. Soft tissue damage tends not to show up on x-rays which are usually only taken to rule out a fracture or dislocation of the vertebrae. There are however, other tests that can be carried out if necessary such as MRI and CAT scans and electromyography will test the nerves and muscles if it is suspected that a nerve is trapped.

Q. Why am I still suffering several years after my accident?

A. Whiplash can cause permanent damage to the vertebral joints, discs, ligaments and nerves and studies have shown that seven years after the initial injury, less than a third of whiplash patients were found to be completely pain free.

Q. Why have I been diagnosed with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTI) when I didn’t hit my head in the car accident?

A. Whiplash is caused by the rapid increase and decrease of the body during a crash which causes the head to whip violently forwards and then back, hence the term whiplash. As the head accelerates forwards the brain remains behind for a split second before following by which time the head is decelerating and moving back. As a result the brain hits the interior of the skull causing bruising to the brain or tearing of the nerve cells.

Q. What are the main signs and symptoms of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MRTI)?

A. Symptoms include excessive sleepiness or disturbed sleep, difficulty concentrating and poor memory, poor judgement, slowed thinking, depression, irritability, emotional outbursts and loss of libido. MRTI may cause prolonged residual problems which are not readily apparent such as headaches, vertigo, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, tinnitus and a change of personality.

Q. How long will it take to recover?

A. This varies according to the severity and type of injury. Other factors that affect the healing process are your general state of health, how well you take care of yourself during the healing process and whether there has been any previous trauma to the same area may affect the speed of the recovery.