Insurance claim adjusters often malign whiplash injuries. They see an accident victim with a neck brace complaining of whiplash as a hustler trying to squeeze them for money. But whiplash is a real injury that produces real pain and disabilities.
Whiplash happens when your body accelerates or decelerates quickly. Your head pulls on your neck as it whips back and forth, trying to keep up with your body. These stresses can injure the soft tissues and bones in your neck.
The Structure of Your Neck
Your neck contains your cervical spine. This spine segment includes the seven vertebrae below your skull. These vertebrae support the weight of your brain and skull. You also move them when you nod or shake your head.
Between each pair of vertebrae sits a disc. The intervertebral discs are formed from two types of collagen. Tough, fibrous collagen forms a shell around a softer, gel-like collagen. The discs cushion the vertebrae and allow them to move smoothly without grinding on each other.
Ligaments hold your vertebrae together. The tension in the ligaments also keeps the discs in their correct positions. These ligaments pull the vertebrae back into place when you twist or bend your neck. They also guide the movement of your neck so you do not move the wrong way and damage the discs or vertebrae.
The spinal cord runs through the vertebrae. The spinal nerves carry all the nerve signals between the brain and the body below the neck. The spinal cord sits in the spinal canal formed in the vertebrae. At each vertebra, the spinal cord branches to form a nerve root. The nerve roots further branch out to the muscles, skin, and organs.
Muscles in your neck move your head. These muscles attach to your skull, vertebrae, and collar bones through tendons.
The Physics of Whiplash
Whiplash injuries happen because your body and head do not move in sync. Instead, they move independently, and your neck must pull on each to keep them together.
For example, when you get into a car accident where you get hit from the front, your body and head keep moving forward at the same speed as before the crash. Your body hits your seat belt. But your head keeps moving. As it moves forward, it pulls on your neck, hyperextending it. As your car comes to a stop, the neck compresses.
This cycle of hyperextension and compression is characteristic of whiplash. It might seem implausible that your head could put enough stress on your neck to injure it. But your head weighs roughly 11 pounds.
For comparison, a gallon and a half of milk is about 11 pounds. Imagine trying to stop a gallon and a half of milk moving at 30 or 40 miles per hour, and you understand the magnitude of the forces you experience when your head whips back and forth.
Going in other directions is not any easier on your neck. When you get hit from behind in a rear-end collision, your head whips back and hyperextends your neck. You will probably instinctively slam on your brakes. Your head rapidly stops, then whips forward.
In this type of accident, you feel hyperextension in a backward direction, compression, then hyperextension in a forward direction. Again, the stresses on your neck through this hyperextension and compression cycle can damage its structures.
Types of Whiplash Injuries
Whiplash injuries can take a few different forms. The type of injury you suffer and your prognosis depend on which structures get injured. Some examples of whiplash injuries include:
Neck strain is a common whiplash injury. Strains happen when you hyperextend a muscle or tendon. The hyperextension stretches and tears these structures, causing symptoms such as:
- Muscle pain and swelling
- Muscle spasms
Neck strain can cause severe pain because the neck must continually support the head. After suffering neck strain, you may need a neck brace to support the weight of your head and relieve the stress on your neck.
Sprains happen when you hyperextend the ligaments between your vertebrae. Again, hyperextension can stretch and tear the ligaments, leading to symptoms like:
- Spine pain
- Limited range of head motion
Sprains, particularly those that tear through the full thickness of the ligament, can take a long time to heal. Doctors do not operate on torn neck ligaments due to the risk of working near the spinal cord. Instead, you will probably require rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy to recover.
The compression of your neck can damage the discs. The two most common types of disc injuries include herniated discs and bulging discs. In either case, the disc deforms and destabilizes your neck. A deformed disc can also press on a nerve root, causing pain and numbness in your shoulders, arms, hands, or fingers.
One of the worst injuries you can suffer is a fractured neck vertebra. When a vertebra fractures, the bone fragments can dislocate into the spinal canal. If they sever the spinal cord, you will suffer permanent paralysis and loss of sensation.
A concussion is not necessarily considered to be a whiplash injury. But it can result from the same whipping forces that injure the neck.
When your head whips around, your brain gets jostled. The fluid surrounding the brain prevents it from hitting the inside of your skull. But the buildup of pressure in the fluid from your moving brain can damage or destroy brain cells. Your brain swells, and you experience symptoms such as:
- Slurred speech
- Blurry vision
Concussion symptoms rarely last longer than two months. But until you recover, you may have difficulty working or performing activities like driving or shopping.
Contact a Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
If you suffered from whiplash due to someone else’s actions, you can pursue injury compensation. To get compensation, you must show that the person acted intentionally or negligently in causing your injury. For example, if you were injured when a driver rear-ended you while texting, you can pursue an injury claim based on negligence.A whiplash injury can cause serious pain and disabling tissue damage. Contact us at Zayed Law Offices Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation to discuss your whiplash injury and the compensation you may be entitled to under Illinois law. Call us at (312) 726-1616, our Chicago personal injury lawyers are standing by.