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Study Findings May Help Whiplash Victims Prove the Extent of Their Injuries

Cranwell & Moore P.L.C. Feb. 14, 2023

On the horizon, PET scans may hold a key to supporting whiplash claims.

Whiplash can be a serious, limiting injury that people should not automatically assume is only a minor inconvenience. We should relegate to history the unfortunate stereotype of the car accident victim who exaggerates their whiplash to inflate the value of their insurance claim. The truth is that in some cases whiplash can be debilitating and cause physical and mental harm sometimes lasting for months or even years.

Rear-end collisions often cause whiplash when the head “whips” backward and forward forcefully from the impact, which may damage the spine, joints, discs, nerves, muscle, ligaments or soft tissue. According to Mayo Clinic, this process can cause:

  • Neck, shoulder, back or arm pain

  • Stiffness

  • Headaches

  • Restricted motion in neck

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue and sleep problems

  • Depression or irritability

  • Concentration or memory problems

  • Blurry vision or ringing of the ears

Subjective Injury Symptoms

When someone receives injuries in an auto collision, the monetary value of the harm and loss must be determined. It is relatively easy to objectively prove physical harm when you can see it with your eyes, on an X-ray or with other kinds of scans, or you can measure it in a lab. But insurers and negligent drivers facing such claims may push back against subjective, unmeasurable, invisible symptoms like pain, fatigue, stiffness, tingling, numbness and weakness.

When it comes to whiplash and some people’s tendency to respond with skepticism about the extent of someone’s pain and disability, a newly published medical study suggests that objectively supporting a broader range of whiplash symptoms may become possible using positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Harvard Medical School Study

Mayo Clinic says that currently, doctors use X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and MRIs to analyze whiplash patients. Recently, Harvard Medical School headed up an international study with Swedish researchers on the use of PET scans to support patient claims of whiplash-associated disorder (WAD) and to enhance treatment. The research looked at whiplash patients using PET/CT technology after injecting D-deprenyl.

The exciting news is that the scans showed visual evidence of molecular inflammation and tissue injury that has not been observable in CT scans previously. A PET scan “captures molecular and cellular biological processes and not mere anatomy or structure” and has detected inflammation in other conditions.

Such a development could provide important medical evidence in whiplash cases. “These findings help identify affected peripheral structures in whiplash injury and strengthen the idea that PET/CT detectable organic lesions in peripheral tissue are relevant for the development of persistent pain and disability in whiplash injury.” Specifically, the scans showed inflammation and tissue injury – and having this objective evidence would support a victim who reports related subjective symptoms.

In fact, the researchers found an association between injured tissue, bone and joints showing up on the scans and the patients’ descriptions of their pain, although this association could be complicated by other factors that could impact pain (like signals from the nervous system or psychological, genetic, social or economic factors).

Hopefully, the scientific community will further develop PET imaging for use with whiplash, which would help accident victims to prove the extent of their injuries and symptoms.


People who get whiplash and other injuries in motor vehicle accidents have the right to receive compensation when the negligent, reckless or aggressive driving of others caused the collisions. People with whiplash may need ongoing medications, pain treatment, physical therapy, mental health treatment and other medical care.

The personal injury lawyers at Cranwell & Moore P.L.C., Attorneys at Law, in Vinton represent motor vehicle accident victims throughout the Roanoke, Virginia, area in the fight for fair, full compensation for serious injuries.