Whiplash has a reputation as a catch-all for unexplained car accident injuries. But whiplash is a real phenomenon that can cause neck, head, and shoulder pain. Worse yet, the same whipping motion that causes whiplash can also cause a concussion or spinal cord injury.
Car accidents aren’t the only events that cause whiplash. Any accident that makes your head and neck whip violently — such as pedestrian accidents, slip and fall accidents, and even assaults — can have the same result.
Here are some facts to know about a whiplash injury and the compensation you can get for the injury’s effects.
What is the Structure of Your Cervical Spine?
Your spine has three sections. The top seven vertebrae in your spine make up the cervical spine. The cervical spine provides structure to your neck and supports your head.
The next twelve vertebrae in your back form the thoracic spine. This section of the spine supports your ribs.
The lowest five vertebrae form the lumbar spine. The lumbar spine supports your abdomen and attaches to your pelvis.
Discs sit between the vertebrae. The discs cushion the vertebrae and provide a smooth surface for these bones to move against each other without grinding.
Ligaments hold the vertebrae in place. They also provide tension to hold the discs between the vertebrae.
Your spinal cord runs through the spinal canal and connects your brain to your body. At each vertebra, nerve roots branch off the spinal cord and run to your various body regions. Because the cervical spine is so close to your brain, most of the nerves that serve your body run through it.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash happens when your body suddenly accelerates or decelerates. This can happen during a collision. It can also happen during an assault when someone violently shakes you.
According to Newton’s laws of motion, your head wants to keep moving at the same speed as before the acceleration or deceleration. To keep your head in line with the rest of your body, your neck must exert a force to pull your head.
Your head weighs about 11 pounds. This is roughly the same weight as a gallon can of paint. When your neck pulls your head during rapid acceleration or deceleration, it must exert enough force to pull this weight. As you come to a stop, your head will pull back on your neck with the same force.
This whipping motion of pulling your head and then getting pulled will cause your neck to hyperextend. You can think of your neck as a whip and your head as an 11-pound bowling ball on the end of it. The force exerted on the whip as it pulls the ball and then gets pulled by the ball would create enormous tension.
What Types of Whiplash Injuries Can Occur?
Whiplash injuries can take many forms, including:
Neck Strain or Sprain
As your head whips back and forth, the force on your neck can damage your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Neck strain happens when the tendons or muscles in your neck get stretched or torn.
Symptoms of neck strain include:
- Limited range of motion
- Muscle spasms
Neck sprains happen when the ligaments in your neck get stretched or torn. A neck sprain can cause symptoms such as:
- Limited range of motion
- Neck instability
- Popping at the time of the injury
Neck strains and sprains usually heal on their own in four to six weeks with rest. Your doctor may also prescribe ice and anti-inflammatories to control swelling and promote healing. Doctors rarely operate to repair a torn tendon or ligament in the neck.
As your neck hyperextends during whiplash, the vertebrae and discs separate slightly. As you come to a stop, they compress. This compression force can crush the discs in your neck.
The discs include a fibrous annulus and a gel-like nucleus. When the discs get compressed, the annulus can deform and bulge. The annulus can even separate and allow the nucleus to protrude.
Whether the disc bulges or herniates, the disc will likely irritate nearby nerves and cause neck pain. In severe cases, the disc can compress the spinal cord.
When the vertebrae crush together during whiplash, they can fracture. A fractured vertebra in the neck poses a risk of paralysis. The bone fragments can press into the spinal cord and sever nerves. When the nerves get severed, they can no longer carry sensory signals from the body to the brain or motor signals from the brain to the body.
What Injuries Can Accompany Whiplash?
The whipping motion that causes whiplash can also cause other injuries. Some injuries that often accompany whiplash injuries include:
A concussion happens when your brain sloshes inside your skull. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounds the brain and cushions it. The pressure of the CSF on the brain can cause the brain to swell.
Swelling and inflammation can damage brain cells, leading to symptoms such as:
- Blurry vision
A concussion often clears up in two months. If it does not, you may have post-concussion syndrome.
Spinal Cord Compression
When the spinal cord gets compressed by bone fragments or damaged discs, the nerves inflame. The inflammation inhibits the nerves’ ability to transmit nerve signals and can also cause the nerves to misfire.
As a result, you may experience symptoms like:
- Radiating pain
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Loss of dexterity
- Loss of sensitivity to pressure or temperature
- Muscle spasms
Doctors can sometimes operate on your cervical spine to relieve the pressure and reduce your symptoms.
How Can You Receive Compensation for Whiplash Injuries?
If you suffered whiplash in an accident, you may be entitled to pursue compensation. You need to prove that your injuries resulted from another person’s negligent or intentional actions. Once you prove liability, you can get compensation to cover your economic losses (like medical expenses) and non-economic losses (like pain and suffering).
Contact a Tampa Personal Injury Lawyer for Help After Sustaining a Whiplash Injury
Whiplash can cause intense pain. It can also signal more serious injuries like spinal cord compression or a concussion. To discuss the compensation you may seek for your whiplash injuries, contact a personal injury attorney in Clearwater at Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation at (727) 787-2500.