I'm totally panicked. I just came back from a car accident that was my fault. I hit the other car head on. Fortunately, I wasn't going very fast. I'm worried the lady in the car will get a whiplash injury and sue me. Is there any chance that front-end collisions cause less injuries than rear-end fender benders?
The mechanism of injury is the same no matter which direction the force comes from. The head and neck are forced into extension and flexion with a rear-end collision or flexion and extension with a front-end impact.
The good news is that nearly 90 per cent of all people in motor vehicle accidents who develop neck, jaw, or head pain recover quickly. Most are back to full function within a matter of days to weeks. Only a small number develop persistent or chronic pain that results in what we call a whiplash associated disorder (WAD).
It's not clear yet why some people recover just fine while others end up with all kinds of aches and pains. Is there a personality trait, emotional state, or simply bad karma that accounts for who gets better and who doesn't?
So far, studies have identified a couple potential risk factors. Factors that can increase a person's risk for poor recovery include female gender, decreased active neck motion (right after the accident), and pain intensity after injury. Increased muscle tenderness and pressure sensitivity right after the accident are also possible risk factors.
The question is -- are these tender, touchy muscles already on high-alert before the accident? Is it possible that some people's nervous systems are primed for poor recovery and long-term symptoms? There's some evidence to support this idea. Not only are these folks already experiencing increased frequency, duration, and intensity of pain, they develop painful symptoms in other parts of the body (outside the injured area).
But don't borrow trouble before it comes your way. The other person involved in your car accident could very well end up in the 90 per cent who recovery quickly and fully. Right now, it's a wait-and-see moment for you.