If you have never been in a car accident, whiplash might sound made-up. But once you have experienced the pain and disability that result from these injuries, you understand the severity of whiplash.
Whiplash can cause many symptoms, ranging from discomfort to loss of motor and sensory nerve signals. You might lose the ability to earn a living and perform daily activities like driving, dressing, and showering.
Here is an overview of the causes and effects of a whiplash injury and how whiplash affects a personal injury claim.
What Is the Anatomy of the Spine?
To understand how whiplash happens, you need to know the structure of your spine. You have between 24 and 33 vertebrae in your spine. You were born with 33 vertebrae, but some fuse as you mature.
You have seven vertebrae in your cervical spine. Another 12 vertebrae sit in your thoracic spine, which runs through your chest. The lowest five vertebrae make up your lumbar spine.
These vertebrae connect through ligaments. These ligaments hold the vertebrae in place.
Discs sit between vertebrae. They cushion the vertebrae as you stand, walk, and jump. They also provide a smooth surface so you can twist and bend without your vertebrae grinding against each other. The ligaments in your back prevent the discs from moving.
Your spine protects your spinal cord, which is a bundle of nerves that connects your brain to your body below your neck. Every signal from your brain to control your muscles and organs travels along the spinal cord. Likewise, every signal from your skin and organs travels to the brain via the spinal cord.
You have several large muscles that are anchored with tendons to your spine, shoulder blades, collar bones, and skull. These muscles carry your weight and help you sit, bend, lift, and walk.
How Do Collisions Cause Whiplash Injuries?
If you were a compact mass, you would feel a collision throughout your body all at once. But humans extend lengthwise along their spine. As a result, collisions cause the body to bend and twist.
This can happen in a car accident, slip and fall accident, or any other collision. As you collide with another vehicle, your body and head keep moving at the same speed as before the collision. Your seat belt restrains your body, but your unrestrained head whips forward and backward.
This movement might seem harmless, but your head weighs about 11 pounds. This is roughly the same weight as a bowling ball or a gallon can of paint. After a collision at highway speeds, your neck experiences a force equivalent to the force needed to stop a bowling ball traveling at 40 miles per hour or more.
As your head whips forward and backward, the force hyperextends your vertebrae. Remember that your spine is not a rigid unit. The vertebrae separate, stretching the ligaments and tendons and loosening their grip on the discs.
As you come to a rest, your hyperextended spine snaps back into place. This compression causes the vertebrae and discs to squeeze together.
The whipping motion of your head strains your neck and can result in whiplash injuries of varying severity.
What Are Some Common Examples of a Whiplash Injury?
Whiplash can injure the structures in the neck. Some injuries that result from whiplash include:
Sprained or Strained Neck
Neck strains and sprains are the most common form of whiplash injury. Sprains happen when ligaments get stretched or torn.
Symptoms of neck sprains include:
- Neck instability
- Popping sound or feeling in your neck during the accident
- Limited range of motion
Strains occur when tendons or muscles stretch or tear.
Symptoms of neck strain include:
- Muscle weakness
- Neck spasms
Strains can also reduce a person’s range of motion. They may have difficulty performing everyday tasks because of an inability to extend certain parts of their body.
The discs include a fibrous outer shell called the annulus and a soft, gel-like interior called the nucleus. Disc compression can damage the structure of the disc.
If the fibers of the annulus separate, the nucleus can herniate, or protrude, through the opening. Doctors call this injury a herniated disc.
If the annulus fibers remain intact, the compression can cause the walls of the annulus to buckle and bulge like the walls of a barrel. Doctors call this injury a bulging disc.
A damaged disc can bulge into the spinal cord, resulting in a spinal cord injury.
As the spine hyperextends and compresses, the vertebrae could fracture. Each vertebra includes a cylindrical body connected to wing-shaped structures called spinous processes.
The spinous processes provide the anchor points for ligaments and tendons. When the spine hyperextends, the tension in the ligaments and tendons can fracture the processes. Without the support provided by the ligaments and tendons, a vertebra can slip out of place and sever or compress the spinal cord.
The vertebral bodies provide the structure for the spine. When the vertebrae come crashing together, they can break. The resulting bone fragments can migrate into the spinal canal and sever or compress the spinal cord.
Injured Spinal Cord
If the spinal cord gets severed, you will experience paralysis. This means a partial or total loss of motor function and sensation.
If the spinal cord gets compressed, the nerves will inflame.
An inflamed spinal cord can cause symptoms that include:
- Loss of dexterity
- Loss of sensitivity to temperature and pressure
Your doctor may relieve the symptoms of a compressed spinal cord by fusing the vertebrae. But in many cases, spinal cord injuries cause chronic problems for the rest of patients’ lives.
What Compensation Can I Seek for a Whiplash Injury?
If you suffered a whiplash injury due to someone else’s negligence, you could seek compensation by filing an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. A lawyer can help you recover money to compensate you for your economic and non-economic losses.
Economic losses refer to your financial damages, including your medical bills, lost income, and diminished earning capacity due to long-term disabilities.
Non-economic losses include the ways your injuries diminished your quality of life. This can include pain, mental anguish, and an inability to participate in activities like hobbies and tasks needed to meet your daily needs.
Whiplash can cause temporary or permanent disabilities. Depending on your job, you may miss substantial time from work, or you may even need to change jobs after suffering whiplash. To discuss the compensation you might receive for these damages, contact M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation.