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Children And Whiplash In Motor Vehicle Accidents

Many of our motor vehicle collision victims were travelling with their children.  Unfortunately, while some injuries are obvious in children, others are not.  Parents often inform us that the hospital emergency room doctor could not find any broken bones, but the parent can tell that their child is suffering.

How Can Children Get Whiplash?

While children have more flexibility in their cervical spines, children’s heads are bigger, in proportion to their body, especially their necks, than adult’s heads.  Therefore, it is more likely to be thrown about, injuring the soft tissues in the neck area. Second, with less developed muscles around the head, there is less control of the head when it is suddenly thrown forward.  The result is a disproportionally larger injury to the child’s neck.  Third, because of the larger head, the child has a higher center of gravity, resulting in more of a whipping motion when there is a sudden acceleration as a result of an unexpected impact with another vehicle.  Fourth is the surprise factor.  Adults, more often than not, anticipate a collision.  Children don’t pay attention to the road.  When caught by surprise, they are unable to brace for an injury.  Fifth, and not necessarily expected here, is the fact that in a child safety seat with double shoulder straps, there is no room for any shoulder to absorb any of the shock.  The result is all of the whipping motion goes to the head, giving greater force of acceleration and deceleration to the neck.  Finally, the child safety seat, or lack thereof, can be a factor.  Some seats are better than others.  Some are in better condition. Some are improperly installed.  Some parents or guardians put children that are not big enough in an adult seat belt:  when a child too small for an adult seatbelt is subjected to a motor vehicle collision, his or her body can slip down, under the adult seatbelt, resulting in the small body jackknifing forward, resulting in multiple injuries to the body and neck.

How Can You Determine if Your Child is Injured?

Some children are too young to talk, or are not articulate enough about their pain.  Thus, doctors, chiropractors and other medical providers say to look for the following:   changes in behavior such as crying more, aggressiveness, lethargy, changes in bowl or bladder function, reduced mobility in crawling or walking.  For older children, talk to their teachers:  is there a sudden change in school?   Even with teenagers, who can be moody and difficult regardless of injury, it is important to talk with them, talk to their teachers, and have them properly examined following a motor vehicle collision.

Are There Any Ways to Help Prevent Injuries in Children?

Of course.  First, demonstrate proper driving habits for children, who will grow up to be drivers themselves.  Offer a lifetime of guidance.  Second, always use seat belts for each and every person in a vehicle.  No exceptions.  Third, for children who need a car seat, or child restraint system, get expert advice on what to buy, how to install, and how to use child restraints.  Follow the guidance of your child’s doctor about how long to use child safety restraints and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on which restraints to use and how to install them.