Whiplash injuries -- are they caused by startle reflexes?

July 03, 2006

New research published in The Journal of Physiology suggests that a cause of whiplash injuries could be startle reflexes elicited by unexpected loud sounds. Whiplash injuries most commonly result from seemingly minor low-speed rear-end collisions. The reason for the injury is not known but it is generally thought that the sudden acceleration of the body relative to the head damages the joints and muscles of the neck, which can lead to long-lasting pain.

Jean-Sébastien Blouin and colleagues at The University of British Columbia, collaborating with MEA Forensic Engineers & Scientists, exposed subjects to rear-end collisions that were sometimes accompanied by loud sounds. They showed that a significant component of the muscle reaction in a first collision - like the unexpected one on the roads - arises through being startled by the abrupt motion and loud sound of the impact. This new finding promises a new understanding of the causes of this common injury, leading to new ways of prevention and management.
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