Can an Auto Accident Cause a Chiari Malformation?

At Dolman Law Group we understand that keeping abreast of the latest in technology and science is essential to serving our clients to the best of our ability. That’s why all of our attorneys are dedicated to continually educating themselves about the most recent studies and developments in the medical field. Traumatic brain injury cases make up a large portion of our practice and one developing area we have been following closely is known as a Chiari malformation.also commonly referred to as cerebellar ectopia or Arnold Chiari malformation.

What is a Chiari Malformation?

A Chiari I malformation is a structural defect in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance. Normally, the cerebellum and parts of the brain stem sit in an indented space at the lower rear of the skull, above the foramen magnum. When part of the cerebellum is located below the foramen magnum, it is called a Chiari malformation. Chiari malformations may develop when the bony space is smaller than normal, causing the cerebellum and brain stem to be pushed downward into the foramen magnum and into the upper spinal canal. The resulting pressure on the cerebellum and brain stem may affect functions controlled by these areas and block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid – the clear liquid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord – to and from the brain.

Chiari Malformation Symptoms

The symptoms most often associated with Chiari I malformations include occipital headache, neck pain, upper extremity numbness, paresthesias (“pins and needles”) and weakness. In some cases there can also be lower extremity weakness and signs of cerebellar dysfunction.

Can a Chiari Malformation be Caused by Trauma

In recent years, increased research about the causes of Chiari I malformations has produced some interesting results. Initially, Chiari malformation was thought to be an exclusively congenital issue that was caused by structural defects in the brain and spinal cord that occur during fetal development. However, recent research has revealed that Chiari malformations can also be related to trauma, especially whiplash.

Several studies have suggested that a previously undetected Chiari I malformation can be symptomatically awakened as a result of trauma caused during a motor vehicle crash. While these studies determined that head or neck trauma is capable of “triggering” symptoms relating to Chiari I malformations, in a 2010 study, Michael D. Freeman and number of other experts set out to determine an even more intriguing question: could motor vehicle crash trauma actually be the sole cause of a Chiari I malformation? The answer is that it’s definitely possible.

Established research has already concluded that Chiari malformation can be acquired (i.e. non-congenital). In a procedure known as lumbar shunting, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels are reduced in order to ease intracranial pressure in patients with neurological disorders. In some cases, reduced CSF levels can allow the brain to drop in the skull to the point that the cerebellum pushes through the foramen magnum, in effect causing a Chiari malformation. This occurs because the flotation level of the brain is dependent on the amount of CSF within the dural covering of the spine and brain. There is clinical evidence showing that dural leaks causing reduced CSF levels are in fact associated with whiplash trauma. Accordingly, it is quite possible that whiplash trauma could cause a dural leak that results in Chiari I malformation.

Regardless of whether or not crash trauma triggers pre-existing asymptomatic Chiari I malformation or actually causes it, research indicates that symptoms of Chiari I malformations are substantially more prevalent in whiplash-injured patients. The important takeaway from this is that if you suffer head or neck trauma in an accident, especially whiplash, you may develop symptoms resulting from a Chiari I malformation.

Injuries resulting from automobile accidents, particularly brain and spine injuries, can be extremely complicated. If you’re dealing with a brain or neck injury after an auto accident it’s important to hire a personal injury firm that has extensive experience representing clients with serious or complicated injuries.

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