Types of accident and the whiplash injuries they cause

Whiplash is the ‘whipping' movement of the head when a body suffers an impact. We generally think of whiplash injury as occurring in a rear-end shunt car accident, but there are a variety of circumstances in which a person can suffer the hyperextension and hyperflexion of the neck and cervical spine which leads to damage of the intervertebral discs, tendons and ligaments commonly known as whiplash injury.

The severity of the injury will largely depend on the type of accident that caused it, and health professionals now have a better idea of the effects a whiplash injury can have on the victim thanks to medical research.

rear-end crash

Car accidents

Rear-end crashes

These are the type of incidents in which whiplash injuries most commonly occur. When a car travelling at relatively slow to moderate speed - 15 mph or above - hits a stationary vehicle from behind, there is potential for soft tissue damage to occur in occupants of the stationary vehicle. Studies show that when there is little or no damage to the vehicles involved the likelihood of injury to occupants is low.

In a collision, an occupant of a stationary or slow moving vehicle will have unexpected forces exerted on their bodies and this will cause their head to be thrown backwards. This is quickly followed by the head being thrown forwards, often the chin connects with the chest and then the head returns to normal position. These violent and forceful movements are typically beyond the normal experience for most individuals and the soft tissues of the neck and cervical spine are damaged.

Head-on crashes

A head-on crash typically occurs when one car leaves its carriageway, either in an overtaking manoeuvre or as a result of swerving to avoid an obstacle. Such accidents generally occur at greater speeds than in rear-end shunt type accidents and often result in injuries more serious than mere soft-tissue damage.

Any head-on impact at low speed may cause a similar injury to a rear-end impact, but the neck is hyperflexed (forward movement) first and then hyperextended (backward movement). Similar damage may occur in a head-on crash to that which is suffered in a rear-end crash, but is often more severe and especially so if the vehicles were travelling at high speed.

Any degree of hyperflexion following impact may cause the intervertebral discs of the cervical spine to be pushed back and bulge. Central and lateral disc bulges, and subsequent herniation of the discs, may press on the spinal cord and/or spinal nerves causing pain numbness and/or weakness in one or both of the accident victim's arms.

Side swipes

Side swipe incidents will once again cause a certain amount of abnormal movement in the cervical spine. The level of soft tissue damage will be dependent on the speeds involved in the collision.

Single vehicle crashes

Single vehicle crashes, where one vehicle collides with another road user or street furniture, have the potential to cause whiplash injury. However, the likelihood of being able to make a claim lessens if there is no third party liability involved.

Falls – trips and slips

Whiplash injuries can occur in a slipping or tripping accident, such as in a public building or retail outlet. When a person slips or trips their impact with another object can result in similar soft tissue damage to tendons and ligaments as experienced in a car accident. The movement of the head and neck is similar and the pain and discomfort comparable.

Sports injuries

The acceleration/deceleration forces associated with whiplash from a car accident can also be experienced in many sporting scenarios, particularly in contact sports such as rugby and American football.

If the injury was caused as result of another party's negligence or recklessness, then it may be possible to make a claim for whiplash compensation from whichever sporting body is responsible for maintaining safe play. However, within competitive sports, a certain amount of impact and exertion of forces is foreseeable and making a successful claim can be difficult.

Whiplash information centre

The Thompsons Solicitors Whiplash Information Centre is a one-stop resource for information regarding whiplash injury.

To find out more about whiplash symptoms and treatment, please click here.

For useful resources and a whiplash glossary, please click here.

For information about whiplash injury compensation amounts, please click here.

If you wish to contact a solicitor about making a claim, please use the green buttons at the bottom right-hand side of this page.

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