Whiplash is the term commonly used to describe hyperflexion and hyperextension, and is one of the most common nonfatal car crash injuries. More than one million whiplash injuries occur each year due to car crashes. This is an estimate because not all cases of whiplash are reported. In a given year, an estimated 3.8 people per 1000 experience whiplash symptoms. “Freeman and co-investigators estimated that 6.2% of the US population have late whiplash syndrome”. The majority of cases occur in patients in their late fourth decade. Unless a cervical strain has occurred with additional brain or spinal cord trauma mortality is rare.
Whiplash can occur at speeds of fifteen miles per hour or less; it is the sudden jolt, as one car hits another, that causes ones head to be abruptly thrown back and sideways. The more sudden the motion, the more bones, discs, muscles and tendons in ones neck and upper back will be damaged. Spinal cord injuries are responsible for about 6,000 deaths in the U.S. each year and 5,000 whiplash injuries per year result in quadriplegia.
Most cases of whiplash occur among Caucasians 66.1%, as compared to 27.1% for African Americans, 8.1% for Hispanics, and 2% for Asians, as seen in figure A. After 12 months, only 1 in 5 patients remain symptomatic, only 11.5% of individuals were able to return to work a year after the injury, and only 35.4% were able to get back to work at a similar level of performance after 20 years. Estimated indirect costs to industry are $66,626 per year, depending on the level and severity. Lastly, the total cost per year was $40.5 billion in 2008, a 317% increase over 1998.