Whiplash happens when your body accelerates or decelerates quickly in a fall, car accident, or other collision. Whiplash injuries typically involve your neck. But depending on the structures damaged, it may affect your back, limbs, and head.
Here is an overview of whiplash injuries and how you can get compensation for the effects of whiplash.
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What Is the Anatomy of Your Neck?
Your neck includes seven cervical vertebrae. These vertebrae can form a column to support the weight of your head. They can also flex and twist so you can nod and turn your head.
This flexibility comes from the discs between the vertebrae. These discs provide a tough, smooth surface on which the vertebrae can move. Each disc includes a tough outer shell over a gel-like interior.
Ligaments hold the vertebrae together. These strong and elastic bands of tissue give your neck structure and flexibility. They also hold the intervertebral discs in place between the vertebrae.
The muscles in your neck provide movement and strength. The neck muscles anchor through tendons to the spine, shoulder blades, skull, and collar bones.
You might not think your neck has that much strength. But the average adult head weighs about 10 pounds, and your neck supports every pound.
What Can Cause a Whiplash Injury?
Whiplash injuries result from the hyperextension your spine experiences when your head whips back and forth in an accident. For example, when you slip and fall, your body hits the ground first, then your head whips backward.
When you get into a car crash, your body is propelled in the same direction and speed that you were driving before the crash. Your seat belt restrains your body but does not restrain your head. As a result, your head whips back and forth.
The whipping motion causes your head to pull your neck. The weight of your head can exert severe force on your neck during this whipping motion. This force causes your spine to hyperextend, separating your vertebrae and discs. It also stretches your ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
When you come to a stop, your spine compresses and squeezes your vertebrae and discs. If your head whips back and forth a few times, this hyperextension-compression cycle repeats with each movement.
To better understand the intensity of whiplash, imagine the force you would have to exert to stop five quarts of milk traveling at 20 miles per hour. Your head weighs about the same as five quarts of milk, which means your neck exerts the same amount of force if you get into a crash at 20 miles per hour. At highway speeds, your neck might exert over three times more force.
What Types of Whiplash Injury Can Occur?
Whiplash can injure many tissues in your neck, including:
Whiplash can stretch or tear the ligaments holding your spine together. A sprain happens when you pull or tear a ligament.
Symptoms of a sprained neck include:
- Neck instability
- A neck pop during your accident
A sprained neck will usually heal independently without surgery in about four to six weeks. A doctor may give you a note excusing you from work or recommending light duty while you recover. Your doctor might also recommend physical therapy after you heal.
Muscles and Tendons
Strains happen when you stretch or tear muscles or tendons. Whiplash commonly causes neck strain.
Symptoms of neck strain include:
- Stiff neck
- Muscle spasms
Neck strain also heals on its own within four to six weeks. In addition to rest, your doctor might prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling.
When discs get compressed, they can deform. A bulging disc happens when the disc weakens and sags but does not separate. A herniated disc happens when the disc separates and allows the interior to protrude.
In either case, a deformed disc can press on nearby nerves causing nerve inflammation.
Symptoms of a disc injury in your neck include:
- Neck pain
- Neck instability
- Stiff neck
- Pain radiating from your neck into your shoulders and arms
- Numbness or tingling in your shoulders, arms, or hands
- Weakness in your shoulders, arms, or hands
Doctors cannot repair a damaged disc. They can treat nerve inflammation with anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids. They can also remove the damaged disc so that it does not press on your nerves.
What Injuries Are Related to Whiplash?
Other injuries can arise from the whipping motion of your head. These injuries do not constitute whiplash, but they often accompany it.
A concussion happens when your head whips back and forth, causing your brain to slosh inside your skull. The pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid on your brain causes it to undergo mild inflammation.
This inflammation causes symptoms such as:
- Blurry vision or seeing stars
- Ringing ears
- Slurred speech
- Emotional outbursts
Under extreme circumstances, the hyperextension and compression in your neck can fracture a vertebra. A fractured neck vertebra can kill or paralyze you, depending on the location and whether the broken vertebra severed the spinal cord.
What Compensation Can You Recover for a Whiplash Injury?
You may be able to seek compensation if your whiplash results from someone else’s actions. To do so, you must typically prove that someone else was at fault for your injury. For example, if you slip and fall in a store, you usually recover compensation by showing that the store was negligent in cleaning its floors.
You can recover compensation for your economic damages, which may include medical bills, lost wages, and out-of-pocket expenses. You can also seek compensation for your non-economic damages, including pain and suffering and mental anguish. Whiplash might seem like a minor injury. But it can cause lifelong pain and disabilities. It can interfere with your ability to work and engage in the activities you enjoy. Contact Marzzacco Niven & Associates at (717) 231-1640 to discuss the compensation you can seek for your whiplash injury.