Whiplash is an often misunderstood injury. A fair amount of insurance providers insist that accident victims use whiplash as an excuse to pad their medical bills so they can pursue larger insurance settlements.
Some insurers and insurance lawyers even go so far as to claim that victims completely fabricate their whiplash injuries. These damages are real, though, and they are capable of inflicting severe pain, limiting your head and shoulder movement, and even disabling you from working and performing tasks around the house like cooking and cleaning.
What Is the Anatomy of Your Neck?
Your neck supports the weight of your head as you turn, tilt, and nod, and though practically unnoticeable, the head still makes up roughly 10 to 11 pounds of your overall weight.
The section of the spine in your neck is called the cervical spine, and it includes seven vertebrae numbered C1 (at the base of your skull) to C7 (just above your rib cage). These vertebrae have joints between them, so they can twist and pivot with respect to each other, giving your neck flexibility.
Intervertebral discs sit between the vertebrae to cushion them. The discs have a firm outer ring protecting a soft inner gel. The discs also provide a smooth, tough bearing surface for the vertebrae so they do not grind against each other.
Each vertebra has a body — which has a cylinder shape to hold and carry the weight of your head — and processes, which protrude from the body and provide anchor points for ligaments and tendons.
Those ligaments are strong elastic bands of tissue that hold the vertebrae together and guide their motion so they do not slip out of place. Their springiness also helps to pull the vertebrae together when you move your body.
Furthermore, your neck has several muscles that connect the skull, collarbones, and shoulder blades to your cervical spine through tendons. Together, the muscles and tendons move your neck and give it strength.
What Can Cause a Whiplash Injury?
“Whiplash” is a term that describes both an action and the injuries that result from it. As an action, whiplash describes a cycle of rapid acceleration and deceleration of your body.
When your body moves, it wants to remain in motion, and when it stops, different parts stop at different rates. During a car accident, your body is thrown about after colliding with another car, only stopping when it hits your seat, seat belt, steering wheel, dashboard, door, or other interior structure of the car.
Your body does not stop uniformly, though. When your chest hits your seat belt, your head keeps moving forward. Similarly, when your back hits your seat, your head whips backward.
As your head whips around, its weight pulls on your neck, causing its vertebrae and discs to separate slightly and the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to hyperextend. When your head comes to a stop, your neck compresses, and the exerted force and weight of your head returning to its usual position crushes the discs and soft tissues.
Whiplash can occur in other accidents, too, such as pedestrian accidents, motorcycle crashes, bicycle accidents, and fall accidents. In a slip and fall accident, for instance, your feet lose traction, and you fall backward. Your hips and back hit the ground first, then your head whips backward. The whipping forces can injure your neck even if your head does not actually hit the ground.
What Types of Whiplash Injuries Can a Person Suffer?
The repeated hyperextension and compression of your neck can produce a range of whiplash injuries, such as:
A Strained or Sprained Neck
The differences between a strain and a sprain of the neck are as follows
- Sprains affect ligaments between the vertebrae, while strains affect tendons and muscles connecting the neck to the head, shoulders, and back
- Sprains can produce a popping sound or sensation at the time of the injury, while strains often do not
- Sprains cause pain in the cervical spine, whereas strains cause muscle pain
- Strains cause muscle spasms and weakness; sprains do not
Mild strains and sprains will usually heal within four to six weeks with rest, and though severe neck strains and sprains may take longer to heal, doctors rarely operate on torn neck tendons and ligaments.
Bulging or Herniated Discs
When discs get compressed, they can deform. A compressed disc can also burst, allowing its interior gel to protrude or herniate through the disc’s side. The disc can also sag and bulge around its perimeter. In either case, a deformed disc will weaken your neck and cause pain.
Of greater concern, however, is that a bulging or herniated disc can press on nerve roots branching from your spinal cord.
A compressed nerve root in your neck can cause any of the following:
- Pain that radiates into your shoulder, arms, and hands
- Upper limb numbness or tingling
- Loss of dexterity in your fingers and hands
Doctors cannot repair a compressed disc. They can inject anti-inflammatory drugs into the nerve root to reduce any symptoms caused by inflammation or outright remove the damaged disc, replacing it with an artificial disc or fusing the remaining vertebrae.
Whiplash forces can also fracture a vertebra, leading to a broken neck. If you suffer a broken neck, you have a risk of permanent quadriplegic injury, meaning it will affect all four limbs.
Although a concussion is not typically considered to be a whiplash injury, the same forces that cause whiplash can also cause concussions. When your brain is jostled by the whipping motion of your head, the neurons in the brain can get damaged.
That brain damage produces swelling, which can cause the following symptoms:
- Blurry vision
Thankfully, these symptoms will usually clear up on their own within roughly two months.
How Can You Get Compensation for a Whiplash Injury?
You can pursue compensation for whiplash that resulted from someone else’s negligence. To discuss your whiplash injury and the compensation you can seek, contact Attorneys of Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers. at (312) 929-2884 for a free consultation.