Study: Tangible Whiplash Diagnosis May Be On the Horizon

Whiplash

For decades, whiplash has been an injury that has invited mocking and extreme skepticism.  Hollywood has parodied the injury countless times.  Most if not all of us have seen those movies where an actor walks into a courtroom with a bulky neck brace pretending to be injured.  Sadly, many of us have learned to assume that people who suffer from whiplash are either exaggerating their pain or making it up altogether.  Part of the problem with whiplash is that it cannot be diagnosed on X-rays, MRI scans or any other medical test.  If you cannot see it, it makes it much harder to believe that it exists.  That may all be changing thanks to a recently published study.  The study reveals that changes in the brain connected to pain and posture processing and changes in blood flow could be due to the pain associated with whiplash.

About the Whiplash Study

Researchers from academic institutions in the Netherlands and in Germany collaborated on the study.  Those interested in reading it can find it here.  They scanned the brains of 20 women.  12 of the subjects suffered from what is known as cWAD, or chronic whiplash associated disorder.  The researchers scanned their brains by using a technique known as positron emission tomography, or PET.  They also exposed each of them to four different levels of non-painful neck stimulation.  The researchers found that there were changes in the blood flow in the brain, particularly with the subjects with cWAD.  The areas of the brain affected included those involved in pain perception and processing sensory information on an internal basis.

What all of this means in plainer language is that there is something physical happening with people who suffer from the long-term effects of whiplash.  This could mean that we are close to a point where we can ‘locate’ whiplash on certain medical tests to prove that it is present.  However, the researchers did not identify what specifically caused these changes in the brain.  Instead, they suggested that additional research was needed in order to define what leads to these changes in people who suffer from cWAD.

About Whiplash

As stated above, whiplash has long been the target of scorn and skepticism.  However, people who suffer from whiplash often face daily agony that they can neither explain nor completely overcome.  Whiplash is generally described as a strain in the neck area caused by the head suddenly jerking forward or backward.  Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • Pain in the neck that can be constant or periodic and that varies in intensity
  • Decreased overall range of motion in the neck
  • A knotted feeling in the muscles of the neck
  • Extreme pain when rocking the head from side to side
  • General tenderness in the neck area
  • Headaches that tend to occur at the base of the skull

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of whiplash, aside from an inability to see it in medical scans, is the unknown duration of its symptoms.  Some people recover from whiplash in a matter of days, while others will struggle with it for weeks.  Still others will endure whiplash symptoms for years.  In some cases the symptoms will seemingly disappear for a time and then reappear.  Some patients have reported a delayed onset of whiplash symptoms in that they begin to take hold days or even weeks after the initial injury.

In short, whiplash remains largely a mystery to the world of medical science.  It is difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat and nearly impossible to predict in terms of how long it will last and how the patient will feel while the symptoms exist.  Even the data regarding the number of people who suffer from whiplash vary widely from source to source.  We have a lot to learn about this condition, but we do know that those who suffer from it face difficulties and challenges every day.

Whiplash Statistics

There is no consensus with regards to the number of people who suffer from whiplash in the United States.  There are several reasons for this lack of uniformity.  One reason is that a large number of people who suffer from whiplash never report it to their doctors.  They simply assume that they have a stiff or sore neck and decide to try to manage the symptoms themselves.  Another reason is that different doctors will diagnose these injuries differently.

For instance, sources that report data on whiplash statistics vary in terms of the number of people who suffer from it in the United States from 120,000 to 3 million people per year.  Some data that seems to generate agreement among experts in the field include:

  • More than one-third of whiplash sufferers face pain for months or longer.
  • Approximately 20 percent of whiplash sufferers deal with symptoms that last for longer than one year.
  • More than 10 percent of whiplash sufferers become disabled on a permanent basis.
  • Every person who suffers from whiplash faces an average of 8 weeks of missed work time.

Common Causes of Whiplash

Whiplash is caused by a sudden and violent jerking of the neck and head.  According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common causes of whiplash include:

  • Auto accidents
  • Physical assault
  • Collisions that occur in contact sports

The most common type of auto accident that causes whiplash is the rear-end crash.  Crashes with speeds as low as 5 miles per hour can lead to this condition.

How a San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

People who suffer from whiplash face a potentially long, stressful, painful and uncertain road to recovery if full recovery is even possible.  Many people who are fighting this condition also face a social stigma that has been festering for decades.  This is especially difficult for people who suffer from whiplash because of the negligent or reckless actions of someone else.  Hopefully the results of this study lead to additional learning that removes at least part of the cloud of mystery that surrounds this injury.  If you or someone you love is facing this situation, you need to take immediate steps to protect your legal rights.  Contact a San Diego personal injury lawyer at Gomez Trial Attorneys as soon as possible to schedule a free initial consultation.

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