Many people who are injured in car crashes are struck from behind by a following vehicle. The insurance companies want everyone to believe that low-speed impact equals no injury. Or they say low-speed impact and not much property damage to your car means that you could not have been injured. This is very far from the truth and is insurance company propaganda. I think that insurance companies have created this myth that injuries cannot occur during low-speed collisions in order to try to protect their bottom line: profit.
Many studies, both from engineers and medical doctors and chiropractors have found that people can and do get injured from low speed, minor property damage collisions. How many people have been rear-ended and got out of their car and did not see much damage and think, hum, I can’t be hurt, there is not much damage to my car so there must not be any damage to my body. The research has found that when there is not much property damage to a car in a rear-end collision, the forces will pass through to your body in a greater fashion than when there is more damage to your car. In other words, the more damage to your car means that the car is absorbing the force of the impact and not your body. So, it makes perfect sense that when there is little damage to your car, there are more forces passing through directly to your body, thus causing injuries to your neck and back.
When someone is injured in a rear-end collision, it is mostly injuries to one’s neck and/or back. The force of impact translates into energy being slammed into your spine. In fact, there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of injury in a low-speed rear-end impact. What are those factors?
1. You do not know the crash is going to happen. You are 12-15 times more likely to be injured if you are not aware that a collision is going to happen. In other words, you are not “ready” for the impact. Most of us are hit from behind and we are not aware that this is going to happen. When we are driving or stopped at a traffic light, we usually are on the phone, changing the radio, or looking around at the scenery and other things. We are not looking to our rear, waiting for someone to collide with our car.
2. This leads to No. 2 and that is our head is turned at the time of impact. Like I said above, most of us are looking around, playing with our cell phones, adjusting our mirrors, changing the radio station, checking out the restaurant on the side of the road, etc. We are not normally looking straight ahead when someone crashes into our rear. When your head is even slightly turned to either the left or the right, there is more likelihood of injury due to the angle of your body at impact. So, we are not looking straight ahead, ready for impact, like some of the insurance company studies show. The insurance company studies will usually show a “dummy” being hit from behind but the “dummy” is seated perfectly and looking straight ahead.
3. Your car is struck at an angle. Due to the same reason that you are injured more severely when your head is turned, you are also injured more severely when struck at an angle instead of dead on. This has to do with physics. When your spine is struck at an angle, obviously your body is not going to reflect it as well as being struck dead on straight.
4. Women are more likely to be injured than men. It is true that women are usually smaller and more fragile than men. For this very reason, women are usually more severely injured in car crashes than men. Women’s neck muscles are not as strong as a man’s neck muscles. A women’s neck is thus thrown back and forward more violently than a man’s neck because they are obviously more fragile than a man (unless we are talking about a highly trained woman athlete which is not usually the norm). Studies with sensors placed on a neck have shown this critical difference between a woman and man’s spine. Also, women are usually lighter than men and are thrown about more easily than a heavier man. Higher head acceleration translates into higher shearing forces on a woman’s spine.
5. Age. As we age, our spine becomes more brittle and fragile as happens with all our bones and muscles. Our discs get stiffer and our body starts to deteriorate, as is to be expected. Arthritis creeps in and no one can stop this. What does this all mean? We are much more susceptible to impact forces as we age because our bodies no longer can absorb as much energy and impact as when we were young and stronger. Accordingly. those over the age of 65 or so will experience more injury to their body as their body and spine cannot absorb and handle much force. We are less able to tolerate strains to our muscles and ligaments as we age and it is common sense that we are more likely to be injured as we age.
6. Pre-existing injuries. If we have been injured before, and our bodies are impacted in that same injured area, then it is obvious that we will likely be injured more severely in those areas. If your spine is already unstable due to a prior accident or injury, then you are more likely to suffer more damage to that area as opposed to someone who does not have a preexisting injury. If you have been in a prior rear-end collision and injured your neck, then get hit again by a distracted or incompetent driver, your neck is much more susceptible to being injured again. Why is this? Your neck is not as strong as someone who has not been injured previously in that area of the body.
7. You feel pain fairly soon after the impact. If you are one of those who feel pain after the accident, then you are more likely to have chronic problems. Some people rightfully do not notice the pain until the next day or even 2 days later, but those who feel pain immediately are in for a longer course of medical treatment, in most situations. This is not to say that drivers cannot suffer permanent injuries and not feel pain right away. Some of us have higher pain thresholds than others. We all know people who scream at the slightest hint of pain and others who have a very high pain tolerance.
8. Loss of range of motion in the neck. If you find it difficult to move or turn your neck after a car accident, then you are more likely to suffer permanent injury or impairment in the long term. So, one can expect more chronic pain if one cannot turn their neck or back immediately after an impact from another vehicle. However, having said that, some people develop pain and stiffness in the following days and can certainly develop long-standing chronic problems in the future. It is just more likely that an injury is more serious if you are having greater difficulty turning your neck immediately after the impact.