Whiplash carries a bit of a poor reputation and stigma, with many insurers acting as if accident victims invent cases of whiplash to file an insurance claim. Pop culture has even endorsed that perception, referring to people who file false insurance claims as “whiplash hustlers.”
Nevertheless, whiplash is a real and potentially serious injury that causes pain and limits your range of motion. Some forms of whiplash injuries can even cause chronic or recurring pain and permanent disabilities that limit a victim’s ability to work or perform personal tasks like raising their hands above their head to wash their hair.
The Structure and Function of Your Neck
Your neck has to support the weight of your head while also allowing it to nod and shake. To accomplish these seemingly-contradictory tasks, your neck includes bones for strength and structure as well as muscles for movement. Muscles run through the neck connecting the skull, spine, shoulder blades, and collarbones, connecting to the spinous processes through tendons.
The cervical spine connects your head to your body, and it includes seven vertebrae numbered C1 through C7. Each has a solid body with several thin processes protruding from it. The body provides support as it transfers the weight of your head down your spine to your hips, while the processes provide anchor points for spine ligaments to hold your vertebrae together.
Discs sit between each pair of vertebrae and are formed from two different types of collagen. A tough, fibrous form of collagen makes up the outer layer of the disc, while a soft, gel-like form of collagen sits inside.
How Does Whiplash Happen?
During an accident, your head may flail forward, backward, and side to side. A whiplash injury occurs when the momentum of your head pulls on your neck, causing your head to change directions rapidly, thereby damaging the bones and soft tissues in your neck.
To comprehend the magnitude of the forces on your neck, you must understand that your head probably weighs between ten and eleven pounds — roughly the same as a gallon of paint.
The most common cause of whiplash injuries comes from car accidents. The laws of physics dictate that a body in motion wants to remain in motion. Thus, when your vehicle collides with another vehicle, your head wants to keep moving in the same direction and at the same speed as before the crash.
Whiplash injuries happen when your body stops moving, but your head continues whipping around. If your collision occurred at 30 miles per hour, your head continues moving at that speed even after your body hits your seat belt and stops moving.
At that point, your neck bears the full force of your head whipping forward, pulling back with an equal and opposite force to stop your head. As it does, it hyperextends, causing the vertebrae to separate slightly and the soft tissues to stretch or even tear.
As you come to a stop, the soft tissues pull back on your head, and the vertebrae crash together, compressing the discs. That cycle of hyperextension and compression is what produces whiplash injuries.
Although car accidents are the most common cause of whiplash injuries, you can also suffer whiplash in any accident that involves rapid acceleration, deceleration, or shaking. You could suffer whiplash during a fall from a ladder in a workplace accident.
What Are Some Examples of Whiplash Injuries?
Whiplash injuries can take many different forms depending on the structures that end up damaged. Some examples include the following:
Strains occur when your muscles or tendons become hyperextended. The stress on these tissues causes them to stretch or even tear.
Neck strain, in particular, can cause the following symptoms:
- Muscle pain and swelling
Mild neck strain can take four to six weeks to heal. Severe cases can take longer to heal and may require physical therapy to help you recover your pre-injury strength and flexibility.
You suffer a strain when the ligaments holding together your joints are hyperextended. Whiplash can stretch or tear these ligaments as your head whips back and forth.
Symptoms of a sprained neck include the following:
- Spine pain and inflammation
- Limited range of neck motion
Your neck may also produce a popping sound or sensation at the time of your accident.
Bulging or Herniated Disc
Neck compression produced by whiplash can deform your discs.
If the outer shell of the discs separates, the inner material can herniate between the fibers and produce a protrusion. If the outer shell weakens, the circumference of the disc can sag and bulge. In either case, the deformed disc stresses your entire neck because everything gets pulled out of place.
Worse yet, the deformed disc can press on nerve roots next to the spine. In your neck, these nerve roots run to your shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.
As a result, you can experience symptoms such as:
- Pain radiating from your neck into your shoulders, arms, or hands
- Numbness or tingling in your hands
- Weakness of your arms or hands
- Loss of dexterity in your fingers
Doctors cannot repair a damaged disc. They can only remove it so it does not press on the nerve roots.
The stresses on your vertebrae, as they separate and crash together, can cause a fracture. A fractured vertebra can dislocate into the spinal canal and sever the spinal cord, which can cause permanent paralysis to the parts of your body below the level of the injury.
How Can You Get Compensated For a Whiplash Injury?
You can pursue compensation for some types of whiplash injuries by showing that someone else’s intentional or negligent actions led to the incident that injured you.
In most cases, you will rely on negligence to prove liability. You can prove negligence by showing that someone failed to act in a reasonably prudent manner, thereby causing your injury. Showing that a driver ran a red light, causing a pedestrian accident where you suffered neck strain when your head hit the pavement, would be fair grounds for a negligence claim.
The compensation you can seek for your injury falls into two categories. Economic losses may include medical bills and lost income, whereas non-economic losses may include disability, pain, and mental suffering.
Whiplash can cause permanent or chronic pain and disability. Contact our experienced lawyers at Hall Law Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation to discuss the compensation you can seek for your whiplash injury. Call us today at (800) 292-1979.