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Whiplash Injury

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Whiplash Injury

Whiplash InjuryYou might hear the word “whiplash” when discussing car accident injuries. But you might not fully understand what constitutes whiplash or why it happens in car accidents.

Whiplash can cause severe pain and stiffness. Worse yet, whiplash can signify or lead to other injuries like brain injuries or spinal cord injuries.

Here are some facts to understand about a whiplash injury and the legal remedies you might have when your injuries are caused by someone else.

How a Whiplash Injury Happens

Whiplash injuries do not describe a single type of injury. Instead, they describe the ways your body can get injured from a whiplash motion.

Whiplash motions flow naturally out of the physics of a car collision. Newton’s laws state that a body in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an external force.

In a car crash, your body wants to keep moving even after your car has hit something. Your body slides forward until it hits your seatbelt. Your seatbelt stops your body, but it does not stop your head.

Your head whips forward, hyperextending your neck. Until your head stops moving or hits the airbag, your neck takes all of the force of slowing down your ten-pound head. For comparison, your head weighs about the same as a gallon of paint.

When your head stops moving forward and snaps back, your neck compresses. The entire acceleration of your head as it rebounds will fall on your neck.

The whiplash motion that hyperextends and compresses your neck can damage the bones and soft tissues in your neck. It can also lead to more extensive injuries, like a spinal cord injury.

Although most people associate whiplash with car accidents, it can also happen in slip and fall accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other accidents that produce rapid acceleration and deceleration.

Types of Whiplash Injuries

A whipping motion can cause a variety of injuries, including:

Neck Strain

Neck strain happens when the neck muscles and tendons stretch or tear. The muscles in your neck lift, rotate, and tilt your head. The tendons anchor these muscles to your skull, shoulder blades, collarbone, and spine.

These muscles can stretch or tear as the neck hyperextends.

Symptoms of neck strain include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stiffness

Neck strain takes a few weeks to heal with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory drugs. It may take longer to heal if you must work rather than rest. Doctors rarely operate to repair a torn muscle or tendon in the neck. Instead, they might prescribe injections of pain medication into the injured muscle.

After you heal, you will probably need physical therapy to restore strength and flexibility to your injured neck.

A Sprained Neck

Ligaments hold the bones of your neck together. Your head, vertebrae, shoulder blades, collarbone, and upper ribs connect through ligaments that hold them in place and stabilize them.

Neck sprains happen when your accident stretches or tears ligaments in your neck. A whipping motion can hyperextend these ligaments. If they are stretched too far, they can tear.

Symptoms of a sprained neck include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Neck instability
  • Bruises
  • Stiffness

A sprained neck will usually heal over a few weeks to a few months, depending on its severity. You will usually require rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications. A doctor may also immobilize your neck with a neck brace while your ligaments heal.

Doctors typically do not operate on a sprained neck. As with severe neck strains, they usually prefer to use pain medication to manage your symptoms.

Spine Injuries

Your cervical spine includes the top seven vertebrae of your spine. A disc sits between each pair of vertebrae. Ligaments hold the vertebrae to each other.

When you suffer whiplash, the neck vertebrae separate. During the rebound, the neck vertebrae compress.

Under normal forces, the discs cushion the vertebrae. But the forces you experience during whiplash can fracture vertebrae and crush discs.

When vertebrae fracture, the bone fragments can slip out of place. Compressed discs can dislocate or bulge. These conditions can strain the muscles in your neck and cause pain and instability. They can also limit your range of motion.

A broken neck will require intense medical treatment. Doctors will immobilize your neck. They may even operate to clear any loose bone fragments

Doctors cannot repair a crushed disc. They can remove it and fuse the adjacent vertebrae. They can also replace it with an artificial disc.

Spinal Cord Injuries

The real danger of fractured vertebrae or crushed discs comes from the damage these injuries can do to your spinal cord.

The spinal cord contains all of the nerves that connect your brain to your body below your neck. When the nerves get severed or compressed, you will experience a range of symptoms, such as:

  • Pain that radiates to your head, arms, or legs
  • Loss of dexterity or coordination
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis

Whiplash can cause spinal cord injuries when the discs bulge into the spinal canal and compress the spinal cord. They can also result from bone fragments that dislocate into the spinal canal and sever or compress the spinal cord.

Brain Injuries

The whiplash motion can indirectly cause a brain injury. The whipping motion of your head causes your brain to slosh inside your skull. As your brain moves inside your skull, the cerebrospinal fluid pushes back on your brain.

This pressure can cause a concussion. Common concussion symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Confusion
  • Amnesia
  • Seeing stars or blurred vision
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Slurred speech

Concussion symptoms usually clear up in six to eight weeks with rest. Occasionally, the symptoms last longer than two months. These cases, referred to as post-concussion syndrome, appear most often in accident victims who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pursuing Compensation for a Whiplash Injury

When you suffer a whiplash injury due to someone else’s negligence, you can seek damages in a personal injury lawsuit. These damages cover your medical expenses and lost earnings. They can also compensate you for your pain, mental anguish, and inability to engage in activities.

A whiplash injury can cause severe pain and inhibit your ability to work. It can even prevent you from performing your normal daily activities, like showering, driving, and walking. 

To learn more about the compensation you might seek for the impact of whiplash injuries on your life, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer.

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