“Whiplash” Injuries – Newly Published Study Shows Significant Long Term Effects

By Adler Giersch PS

For years the battle has raged between those who maintain strain/sprain injuries of the type referred to in common parlance as “Whiplash” cause only short term health issues and those who maintain the impact on these individuals lives is long term. Insurance companies maintain that only limited short term care is required absent additional “hard” tissue injury, and that there are no long term effects. A recent study strongly refutes that insurance industry conclusion, showing that those exposed to a rear end impact were at increased risk of future neck pain, as well as other health complaints when compared with an unexposed group.

The results of a study conducted by five researchers designed to assess whether or not there are long term health implications from “whiplash” injury was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology ,54 (August 2001) 851-856. Whiplash was defined as soft tissue injuries of the cervical spine with associated symptoms of neck pain, headaches, back pain, fatigue and sleep disturbance.

This cohort study included 4,124 subjects broken into three groups:

  • 204 drivers who had been hit from the rear and did not report injury
  • 272 drivers hit from the rear who sustained injury. Of these, 257 sustained minor injury (AIS 1), four experienced moderate injury (AIS 2) and one sustained series injury (AIS 3) ; and
  • 3,688 individuals who had not been exposed to rear end automobile accident trauma who served as the comparison group.

The accidents involving the study participants had occurred seven years before. Of those in the injured group, 32% had injuries to areas of their body in addition to the neck, with the most common being to their lumbar spine, followed by skull/brain injury.

The study participants provided information regarding their general health condition as well as in seven specific symptom areas other than neck pain. The results showed those who had sustained a “whiplash” injury from a rear end impact were significantly more likely to be experiencing ongoing issues with headaches, low back pin, thoracic pain, fatigue, stomach aches, and general ill health. The results ranged from over four times more likely to be experiencing headaches then the unexposed group (22.5%/5.1%), three times more likely to be in general ill health (17%/5.4%), to almost twice as likely to be experiencing low back pain (20.3%/11.8%) and stomach aches (4.0%/1.9%).

The significance of the findings were reinforced by the fact there were no increased risks of long term health consequences identified in those individuals subjected to a rear end impact that did not cause traumatic injury to them.

The researchers also noted the symptoms and changes in the body’s function from these injuries seemed more consistent with the accident having put a particular bodily disease mechanism in motion as opposed to a syndrome. The results also add weight to the concept that individuals with some types of pre-existing problems are more vulnerable to long term effects from these types of traumatic injuries. This research further demonstrated why the insurance companies position is untenable as a general rule. “Whiplash” injuries can and do result in long term health consequences for the injured person.