Each crash possesses its own characteristics that can make the difference between an accident with no injury and an accident with serious injury. An accurate assessment of the actual forces from a collision requires the skills of an expert engineer. The potential risk of injury, however, can be roughly estimated by examining the following variables:
1. The angle of the collision. Was the patient’s car hit straight on, from the side, or at some angle? The angle of collision will play a large role in determining what forces were placed upon the neck and head, and what tissues were damaged from these forces. A straight on impact will generally be less hazardous than a collision from an angle, as the spine may be twisted in an off-center impact.
2. The speed and size of the rear car. Obviously, the faster and heavier the rear car is moving, the more severe the forces placed on the occupant in the front car. A large truck going 5 mph can do much more damage than a small car going 20 mph.
3. The speed and size of the front car. Also, if the front car is large, there may be less damage, but a small car can experience much higher accelerations in a minor impact.
4. Road conditions. Was the road dry, wet, or icy? Was the road surface asphalt or gravel? The road surface can make a “minor” accident more severe than it at first appears.
5. Occupant head position. Was the patient looking straight forward? Or was his head turned? A turned head will expose the spine to more complex stresses, resulting in a increased risk of injury.
6. Occupant awareness. It is generally believed that whiplash trauma is less when the occupant has an opportunity to ”brace” herself in the collision, preventing the head from being hyper-extended. Bracing of the arms and legs, however, can result in trauma to these areas of the body.
7. Head restraints. Most people mistakenly believe that the head restraint is a head “rest,” and use it to rest their heads. The restraint should be positioned so that the back of the head touches it.
8. Safety belts. Shoulder belts are very effective at saving lives in auto accidents, but there is some evidence that they can actually cause more damage in a rear end collision.
9. Secondary collisions. Did the patient’s car hit another object? All forces, be they acceleration or deceleration, have an effect on the occupant of the vehicle. A relatively minor collision can be made much more complicated and hazardous if other impacts are involved.
10. Direct body impact. Whiplash pain can be accompanied by minor or severe concussions if the head hits an object.
11. Loss of consciousness. This can be important, as it indicates possible concussion or severe G forces in the injury. Keep in mind, concussion does not require loss of consciousness.
12. Medical history. A history of cervical spine degeneration, a history of headaches, or chronic soft-tissue pain can complicate the clinical picture.
13. Pain onset. A study has found that patients who reported pain immediately after their accidents were more likely to have pain at two years post-injury. It is generally recognized that patients with immediate symptoms are at a higher risk of long-term pain from whiplash.
If you or someone you love has been injured in an automobile accident due to the negligence of another, please call me at 916-694-0002 for free, friendly advice. If you are outside the Elk Grove/Sacramento area, you can call us at (800) 404-5400.
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