Esophageal injury in fatal rear-impact collisions

Lars Uhrenholt, Michael D. Freeman, Anne Grethe Jurik, Lisbeth L. Jensen, Markil Gregersen, Lene W.T. Boel, Sean S. Kohles, Asser H. Thomsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Neck injuries resulting from motor vehicle collisions (MVC), often referred to as whiplash trauma and injury, often demonstrate little or no evidence of significant tissue damage. In rare instances, however, serious injury to the anterior neck organ injuries can result from such trauma. The present study describes esophageal injury associated with rear-impact collisions, based on a unique case report, review of the scientific literature and a query in the National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) database of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.The Medline search and present case study totaled five cases of rear-impact collision-related serious esophageal injury (laceration or rupture). In the four published cases all patients survived, whereas in the presented case study, the patient died due to mediastinitis and sepsis. The NASS query revealed an additional three cases out of a total of 55,926 investigated crashes. All three cases were associated with fatalities.Although no anatomical or bioengineering studies have presented data on the behavior of the esophagus during rear-impact whiplash loading, sudden tensile and/or compressive forces is the likely explanation of injury, often in combination with a local fracture of a vertebral body. In these 8 cases significant esophageal injury carried a substantial (50%) risk of mortality. Clinicians should be aware of the potential for significant complications in the whiplash trauma-exposed patient who complains of chest pain, mid-thoracic pain, discomfort in the neck and throat, respiratory distress, or hoarseness. For those forensic specialists involved in whiplash cases these study results highlight the need to consider esophageal injuries as a rare but potential consequence of whiplash trauma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e52-e57
JournalForensic Science International
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Mar 20 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Esophageal
  • Esophagus
  • Fatal road traffic crash
  • Whiplash injury
  • Whiplash trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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