Skip to content

Motor vehicle accidents and car crashes can cause various types of injuries. Some of these are easy to identify, like a broken leg or fractured hand. However, other injuries or physical trauma might not be so readily apparent. Head and brain injuries fall into this category. One subset of brain injuries and conditions is known as Chiari malformation (CM), a defect in the brain. Formerly thought to be genetic only, recent research shows that traumatic injuries can cause or activate Chiari malformation.

A groundbreaking study co-authored by Ezriel E. Kornel, M.D. F.A.C.S., Michael D. Freeman, Ph.D., and others demonstrated that patients suffering from whiplash were more likely to have anatomical changes to the brain resulting in Chiari malformations – showing that physical trauma as well as genetics can also lead to the development of CM.

What is Chiari malformation, exactly?

A Chiari malformation is a structural defect in the brain. Your cerebellum is meant to rest in the space at the back of your skull. However, if the bottom of your cerebellum (the cerebellar tonsils) extends downward into the spinal canal (the foramen magnum), it’s called a Chiari malformation.

This herniation of the cerebellum can cause serious and painful symptoms, including headaches, insomnia, vertigo, dizziness, depression and a host of other physical and emotional issues. Serious cases of Chiari malformation can even cause fluid to build up in the brain, also known as hydrocephalus. Some patients may even need surgery to relieve pressure in the brain.

Serious cases of Chiari malformation may be apparent at birth or diagnosed later in life. With mild cases of CM, a patient can be asymptomatic for years, only to be triggered suddenly by some sort of physical trauma.

What are the symptoms of Chiari malformation after a car accident?

As you might expect with a structural brain condition, the primary symptoms of CM include neck pain and migraine headaches. However, there are also a host of secondary symptoms which can lessen or worsen according to how you move or extend your neck or head. These can include:

  • Choking
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neurological issues
  • Problems with speech
  • Sleep apnea
  • Tinnitus

Over the last few decades, much research, including Dr. Kornel’s and Dr. Freeman’s study, as well as a 1999 study by Thomas Milhorat et. al, illustrates an increasing body of evidence that physical trauma can not only trigger Chiari malformation, but even actually cause it. Whiplash is of special concern for developing or triggering CM, and it’s crucial that after a car accident you seek medical attention – especially if your head or neck has been jerked back and forth.

Medical professionals can reach a diagnosis using imaging tests, neurological exams and taking your patient history. There is no cure for Chiari malformation, but current treatments include chiropractic adjustment or decompressive surgery. It’s important to obtain a clear and solid diagnosis after you’ve been injured in an accident in order to bring a strong case against the person or parties responsible for your CM.

The Phoenix injury attorneys at Plattner Verderame, PC under the pain and disability associated with Chiari malformation. If your CM was caused by a car accident that wasn’t your fault, we can help you seek compensation for you injuries. Contact us today to talk about your case. Call us at 602-266-2002 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.