Science can be a pesty thing – it frequently tells us that things we ‘know’ to be true are not. From telling us the earth is round when, looking around, we know it to be flat, to telling us that invisible bacteria spread disease, our knowledge grows and grows when science explains the world to us.
The world of auto accidents is no exception.
Scientists have been studying whiplash injuries for years. There was a claim that low damage = low injury. That feels intuitive – like the world being flat. It is equally as wrong.
Studies have shown that the damage to vehicles and even the speed at impact are NOT predictive of injury. Yes – NOT predictive. What is predictive? Well, we know women are hurt more often than men. We know tall people are hurt more often than shorter people. We know that while many people heal in a year, nearly 50% of people with whiplash injuries still have pain a year later.
The most recent comprehensive study to look at this comes out of Canada, where they tried to look at all the studies that had been done on this issue. The “ICON” study, released in 2013, looked at literature from around the world and concluded that no prediction could be made from the reports of the size of the impact, even use of headrests, location in the vehicle, whether the driver saw it coming – none of those factors told us how a person was going to recover.
Science continues to study whiplash. As anyone who has suffered from it will tell you, it can be a debilitating condition with significant and long-term effects on everyday life. Indeed, once caused, nearly half of us still have symptoms a year later. New imaging techniques are hypothesizing that whiplash may cause micro-bleeds in our vertebrae, which then can heal improperly and cause pain. This is a promising area of research, and we hope to learn more soon.
So, if someone asks how you can be hurt “if it was just a fender bender,” tell them it’s about the science.