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Implications of Acceleration-Deceleration “Whiplash” on the Brain


The most common cause of closed head trauma is the acceleration-deceleration of the brain in a motor vehicle accident. Acceleration-deceleration of the brain occurs when the head is accelerated and then stopped suddenly, as in an automobile wreck. The change in velocity can traumatize the brain, without the surface of the head ever contacting another object. In order to appreciate the potential complexities of acceleration-deceleration on the brain, it is important to have an understanding of the implications of these forces on the brain’s mechanisms.

So, how does acceleration-deceleration result in an injury to the brain? When the brain oscillates against the inside of the skull, a concussion can occur. Sudden starts or stops of a vehicle can cause this concussing oscillation, without either a physical blow to the head or a loss of consciousness. And, while a seat belt may prevent physical impact on the body, it may actually increase the acceleration-deceleration effects on the brain – a.k.a. “whiplash.”

When the acceleration-deceleration force is strong enough to cause the brain to directly impact the front part of the skull, and then propel it back to slam into the opposite end of the skull, the brain can be bruised in two focal areas. This is referred to as coup and contrecoup trauma. Moreover, when the brain suffers even greater widespread trauma, such as in a motor vehicle accident that causes a person’s brain to oscillate many times inside the skull, this is called a “diffuse axonal” injury. Diffuse axonal injuries often come with very serious implications, ranging from mild traumatic brain injuries to the most severe.

Acceleration-deceleration forces can also cause the brain to be damaged from rotational trauma. Rotational trauma occurs when the brain moves at a different velocity than the skull, and its effects can be intensified if the force rapidly twists the brain. Several kinds of damages can occur to the brain from rotational trauma.

The implications of acceleration-deceleration “whiplash” forces on the brain should never be taken lightly. Mild traumatic brain injuries negatively affect both short and long term livelihood, including your health, happiness, mobility, and functions in the household and society. A traumatic brain injury can also have a significant impact on the injured person’s family and loved ones. Caring for someone with a traumatic brain injury can be expensive, time-consuming and take outstanding emotional and physical tolls. That is why it is important to have a trusted advocate on your side.