Turning Your Head Increases Risk of Whiplash Injury

by John McKiggan

“Are Whiplash Claims Capped?”

Recent changes to Nova Scotia’s so-called “minor injury” compensation cap rate the injury using what is known as the Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) Scale. Compensation for non-pecuniary damages for WAD 0, WAD 1 and WAD 2 injuries are “capped” at $7,500.00.

But compensation for more severe forms of whiplash WAD 3 and WAD 4 injuries are not subject to the “minor injury” cap.

Recently I was doing some research regarding the injuries suffered by one of my clients and I found an article that I though was worth passing on.

I prefer to use the more accurate term aceleration-decelaration injury when talking about the type of neck injuries people commonly suffer in accidents. But since the minor injury cap legislation uses the term whiplash, I will use it in this article.

Risk Factors for Whiplash

Spine.bmp For years personal injury lawyers have known that there are certain factors that increase the risk of injury after a rear end car crash. For example, studies have shown that women are more likely to be injured than men, and poorly adjusted head rests can also contribute to neck injury.

Significant Risk

But the one factor that I see time and time again that appears to increase the risk of injury is when the injured person has their head turned to one side; for example to look for traffic or to talk to a passenger.

See for example King v. Horth where the injured driver suffered a whiplash injury.

The judge in that case commented on the evidence of Mr. King’s chiropractor:

Dr. Parenteau also concluded that Mr. King’s injuries were complicated by the fact that he had his head turned to the right when he was struck. The doctor also says that the accident contributed to the occurrence of Mr. King’s complaints of numbness in both hands.

New Evidence of Causation in Whiplash Cases

A study published in The Spine Journal the journal of the North American Spine Society confirms the anecdotal evidence that I have seen over the years.

According to the study, people with head turned during a rear-end collision are significantly more likely to develop chronic symptoms:

…a study of 80 patients with whiplash showed that rotated head posture caused significantly higher neck pain intensity, reduced function in daily activities, prolonged incapacity, and reduced neck mobility, as compared with those facing forward.

The researchers used six cadaver spines in their tests. Each spinal column was twisted to the left, the same way it would be if a driver’s head was turned to look for traffic. Each spinal column was then subjected to forces designed to simulate low speed collisions of 3.5, 5, 6.5 and 8 gees.

The study found that the rotated position of the head caused a dramatic increase in the risk of injury to the ligaments ion the neck.

At 3.5 gees the risk of injury increased by 50%. At 5 gees the risk of injury was almost 100% and at 6.5 gees the risk of injury was almost 125%. In other words an injury to the neck was certain.

The authors discussed the clinical significance of their findings:

“Thus, these data indicate that occupants involved in rear impacts are at increased risk for severe injury, primarily at C5–C6, when the head is turned as compared to head-forward at the time of impact. The extension injuries due to head-forward rear impact suggest the onset of sub failure injury to the anterior longitudinal ligament and anterior annular fibers, and associated facet joint impingement, while the flexion loading during frontal impact may injure supraspinous and interspinous ligaments and ligamentum flavum. In contrast, head-turned rear impact may cause lateral annular fiber and capsular ligament injuries, in addition to the head-forward rear impact injuries. The present finding may provide valuable information to the clinician for diagnosing whiplash-type injuries based on the specific impact configuration.”

Mechanism of Injury Critical

This study demionstartes why it is critical for personal injury lawyers and medical professionals to take a detailed history of how the accident happened and exactly how the injured person’s body was postioned in the car at the time of impact.

As this study clearly demonstrates; just turning your head can make the difference between no injuries and chronic long term pain.

More Information

Spinal Cord Injury Claims

How Neck Ligaments Are Injured In A Car Crash

I have been representing victims of serious personal injuries for more than 18 years. I wrote Crash Course:The Consumers Guide to Car Accident Claims in Nova Scotia to help educate car accident victims and their familes so they can have a better chance of receiving full and fair compensation.

If you live in Atlantic Canada you can get a copy of my book, at no charge, by contacting me through this blog (put “Crash Course” in the subject line) or by calling me toll free at 1-877-423-2050.

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