MRI scans now find evidence of whiplash injuries

An ongoing study by a world-renowned pioneer of MRI scanning techniques, Professor Francis Smith of Aberdeen, has shown that whiplash injuries are often not picked up by traditional scanning practices.

MRI scan

It appears that many doctors fail to look for injury at the craniocervical junction, a complex area of ligaments and tissues connecting the top of the spine to the skull. This area is vulnerable to whiplash, but by only looking for problems with the intervertebral discs, many surgeons are failing to identify the injuries.

Dispelling soft-tissue injury diagnosis myths

In his study of 200 people, Professor Smith found as many as 70% of patients had previously undiagnosed problems at the craniocervical junction, meaning they were not adequately treated for their whiplash pain. Once detected, a simple surgical procedure can be carried out, which involves stabilising the joint with a screw-like implant.

With the diagnosis of whiplash becoming more controversial and new legislation proposing a ban on personal injury claims that are not supported by medical evidence, it is important that patients with persistent neck pain caused by whiplash are referred to specialists who can carry out the detailed MRI scans required.

Scans carried out while the patient is upright rather than lying down may be more effective at detecting craniocervical injury, since the head can be more easily moved into positions that reveal the damage caused.

Although the most common causes of whiplash are road traffic accidents, whiplash can occur through slips or falls that jolt the head backwards and by sudden blows to the head during contact sports such as rugby and boxing.

Failing to get the right treatment for whiplash may lead to long-term damage, including constant head, neck and arm pain, pins and needles, tiredness and memory loss.

Read more about whiplash injuries.

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher