Whiplash & Concussion

neck pain
Mention the term whiplash and most people think of a car accident and the resultant neck injury. While one of the most common symptoms associated with a whiplash is neck pain, there are a host of other symptoms that can plague the injured person. One of the common symptoms, yet many times over looked, is a concussion or also called mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI).

When discussing whiplash, it is good to add a little clarity to the term: whiplash is not actually a diagnosis or injury in itself, it is an old term used to describe the physical action that produced the injury. New research has demonstrated that it is not so much of a whipping action of the head as it is a shearing force that is focused on the middle of the neck. This force is produced as the lower neck moves forward at the same time the head and upper neck move backwards. This traumatic force results in injury to the spinal joints and supportive ligaments of the mid-neck.


Much like the term whiplash, concussion is more a descriptive term of the cause of an injury to the brain. As previously mentioned, concussions are also known as mild traumatic brain injury and have been further defined as “a trauma induced alteration in mental status that may or may not involve loss of consciousness.”  Two key points to note regarding MTBI from an auto collision is that it does not require a loss of consciousness nor does there have to be a direct blow to the head.  Further, in many cases, MRI or CAT scans are considered negative, but there is still altered brain function producing a host of disabling symptoms

Whiplash & Concussion

During an auto collision, a concussion or MTBI can happen in one of two ways. The first and most obvious scenario when the head strikes something with in the car.  The impact from the other vehicle causes the occupant to strike their head on the windshield, side doorpost, or window which result in swelling and inflammation to the brain.

The second and possibly more common cause is when the force of the impact causes the head to be rapidly whipped around, shaking the brain inside of the skull. An illustration of this process is compared to placing jell-o into a plastic bowel and sealing the top with a lid: Now shake this bowl forcefully.  This rapid shaking of the brain can result in damage and subsequent inflammation.

In either scenario, the brain can be injured and result in a concussion or MTBI.

Symptoms of Concussion

One of the challenges of diagnosing a concussion is the seemingly vague or random symptoms that can plague the injured. One of the key diagnostic tools for qualifying concussions is the Rivermead Post-Concussive Questionnaire. Based on the Rivermead, symptoms can be placed in two categories: The RPQ-3, those that are typically the initial symptoms and the RPQ-13 Those that are associated with a later cluster, typically indicating a more severe concussion.

The typical symptoms that are immediately present with a MTBI or concussion include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea.

Symptoms that are typically associated with a more severe concussion develop later. These include:

  • Noise sensitivity
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Frustrations
  • Poor memory
  • Poor concentration
  • Blurred vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Double vision
  • Restlessness

Concussion or MTBI is a very real problem suffered by some after a whiplash type injury.  In most cases, under careful monitoring, concussion will resolve itself with time. Yet it is crucial to have correct monitoring in case it requires more aggressive treatment.

If you have been involved in an automobile accident and are experiencing the above symptoms or suspect you may have suffered a concussion, contact Dr. Adam Elsey at 314.7314201 immediately. Prompt care is one of the most effective means of promoting a quick recovery.