What Does Whiplash Mean?

Beautiful young woman rubbing her neck, feeling sore after long drive.
Posted: March 22, 2022

The little black-and-white shrike, a bird with a Zorro-like mask across its face, is a fascinating bird of prey, according to audubon.org. Grabbing a beetle, a lizard, or even a mouse, the bird snaps its head back and forth, shaking its prey before impaling it on something sharp.


While the effect of six Gs of force on a rodent is obviously different from what drivers experience when rear-ended on a public roadway, the whipping motion of the head and neck and the wretched internal forces that it sets in motion are actually similar. This is whiplash, which can cause significant pain and immense debilitation.  


Whiplash, though sometimes thought of as a temporary injury, can cause longstanding pain that can affect the entire body and impair daily activities. So, while you may be wondering, “What does whiplash do?” the better question may be, “What doesn’t it do?” 


The National Institute of Health defines whiplash as “a soft-tissue injury to the neck … characterized by a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the neck, usually because of sudden extension and flexion.” 


Whiplash is a common injury that can result from nonfatal car accidents, and it can often lead to chronic problems. The extent of property damage to a vehicle is not a reliable proxy for the severity of injury endured by a driver or passenger in that vehicle. The purpose of your car bumpers is to protect your car—not you. 


Even where a motor vehicle collision is “low impact,” serious, life-changing injuries can result.  

What is Whiplash? 

What does whiplash mean?  


The term refers to the mechanism of injury—a sudden flexion and extension action to the cervical spine—not a single pathology that can result from the collision, such as cervical strain or a herniated disc. 


In 1995, the Quebec Task Force, at McGill University, developed a classification system of whiplash-associated disorders based primarily on the severity of signs and symptoms. 


This five-tiered classification system separates the severity—or grade—of the individual’s disorder into one of five categories according to the type and severity of signs/symptoms observed shortly after the injury: 

  • Grade 0: No neck pain, stiffness, or any physical signs are noticed 
  • Grade 1: Neck complaints of pain, stiffness, or tenderness only but no physical signs are noted by the examining physician. 
  • Grade 2: Neck complaints and the examining physician finds decreased range of motion and point tenderness in the neck. 
  • Grade 3: Neck complaints plus neurological signs such as decreased deep tendon reflexes, weakness, and sensory deficits. 
  • Grade 4: Neck complaints and fracture or dislocation, or injury to the spinal cord. 

While medical practitioners still use the classification system, it has its share of critics. One major criticism is that its application—based solely on an individual’s clinical presentation immediately following a trauma—is of limited predictive value regarding medical outcome. 

‘Variable Results’ 

One study tracked a series of 186 consecutive cases of individuals who endured whiplash injuries and were seen in the emergency room. The participants were then seen one year later, where, based on the “variable results,” it was determined that the classification system “could not predict persistent neck pain after a whiplash injury . . .” 


In other words, the severity or permanency of whiplash-related injuries cannot be reliably predicted based on testing and examination conducted immediately after the source of trauma. 


“Forces acting on the neck at a motor vehicle accident can result in soft tissue injuries with different clinical manifestations,” the study reported. Another issue was that diagnosis often depends on symptoms and physical findings because some disorders cannot be reliably identified using imaging methods.  


Someone who sustains whiplash injuries after a New York car collision may be entitled to compensation. A whiplash settlement can include financial compensation for pain and suffering, emotional anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.  

Have You Suffered Whiplash in a Car Accident? Call William Mattar. 

If you’ve endured whiplash in a motor vehicle accident and are looking for an experienced personal injury lawyer, the New York motor vehicle accident lawyers at William Mattar P.C. can help. Give us a call any time, at (844) 444-4444, to speak with a member of our legal staff. 


At William Mattar, we offer a free case evaluation if you were injured in a car accident. For your free case evaluation, contact us. 

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