The Importance of Seeking Medical Attention After a Motor Vehicle Collision
When you get in a fender-bender—or even slam on the brakes without making impact—it’s just a minor bump, right? You can’t suffer any serious injuries, can you? Think again.
It’s generally true that the severity of injuries in a car wreck increases when the vehicle is traveling at a higher speed at the time of impact. But a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that even small increases in speed can produce dramatically different results, particularly when a motorist collides with a pedestrian. Another study, conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, found that drivers and passengers are still at significant risk of whiplash even when traveling between five and ten miles per hour at the time of the crash. Researchers say that, regardless of vehicle speed at the time of impact, there’s still a significant amount of force caused by two colliding automobiles, and much of that force is absorbed by passengers in the vehicles. Furthermore, data indicates that in rear-end crashes, the most common source of whiplash injuries, the force from the other vehicle can actually increase in magnitude by the time it reaches the front seat of the car.
Whiplash occurs when your head suddenly and violently snaps back and forth, straining or tearing connective tissue, such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Upon impact, the torso is thrown forward, with the head lagging just behind. When the torso returns to its original position, the head then jerks forward, leading to hyperextension of the neck and the connective tissue in the upper back and shoulders. Like a rubber band, the neck then snaps backward, leading to hyperextension in the other direction.
Don’t be surprised, though, if you seem fine immediately after a minor collision, only to experience excruciating pain a day or two later. Many of the symptoms of whiplash can take up to 24 hours to manifest. Even with low-speed collisions, you can have micro-tears in muscle, ligament, or tendon fibers that can take hours to become inflamed. Once the inflammation sets in, it typically impinges on nerves and nerve endings, causing discomfort.