Although whiplash primarily affects the neck, it can produce symptoms throughout your body. These symptoms could clear up in a few weeks or, in some cases, permanently disable you.
Read on to learn about the causes and effects of whiplash injuries and the compensation you can get for a whiplash injury.
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What Is the Structure of Your Neck?
Your neck performs many functions. It protects your esophagus, trachea, jugular vein, carotid artery, and spinal cord. Your neck supports your head and allows it to pivot up, down, and sideways.
Your neck has several musculoskeletal structures that give it structure, strength, and flexibility. The cervical spine sits at the back of your neck. This segment of your spine includes the top seven vertebrae.
These vertebrae connect your skull to your body. They also protect the top section of your spinal cord. This section of the spinal cord carries nerves that connect to everything below your neck.
A disc sits between each pair of vertebrae. The discs cushion the vertebrae so they do not grind against each other. The discs also allow your neck to bend and flex.
Ligaments connect the vertebrae. The tension in the ligaments also helps the discs remain in place.
Your neck has many muscle groups. The big muscles that run from the back of your skull to your shoulders and shoulder blades are trapezius muscles. Scalene muscles connect your neck vertebrae to your shoulder blades, shoulders, and ribs. Several muscles, including the hyoid muscles, are in the front of your neck and help you talk, chew, and swallow.
What Happens to Your Neck in an Accident?
In an accident, your neck performs another function. When you rapidly accelerate or decelerate, different parts of your body move at different speeds. Your neck pulls your head with your body.
This might not seem like much, but your head weighs roughly 11 pounds. Imagine the force it takes to stop a bowling ball traveling at highway speeds. Your neck experiences this force in a car accident.
As your head swings back and forth, your neck experiences a whipping motion that hyperextends it. When you come to a stop, your neck compresses.
This hyperextension and compression cause whiplash injuries.
What Are Some of the Whiplash Injury Types?
The whipping action you experience during an accident can cause a range of injuries.
Sprained or Strained Neck
A sprain happens when the ligaments in your neck stretch or tear. A strain occurs when the muscles or tendons in your neck stretch or tear.
The stress of your head whipping at the end of your neck can hyperextend the ligaments holding your vertebrae together. You can also stretch the muscles in your neck or the tendons that attach them to your skull, vertebrae, shoulder blades, or collar bones.
Symptoms of neck strain include:
- Muscle spasms
- Limited range of motion
Since neck strain can include damage to the tendons, you could experience pain in your head, neck, or shoulders.
Symptoms of a neck sprain include:
- Neck instability
- Popping sensation in your neck during the accident
- Limited range of motion
Sprains and strains usually heal in six to eight weeks. Your doctor will probably recommend rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen. During your recovery, your doctor may also recommend physical therapy to strengthen nearby muscles to relieve the stress on the injured tissue.
The discs in your neck include a fibrous annulus surrounding a gel-like nucleus. When your neck compresses after getting hyperextended, the pressure can compress your discs.
The discs can withstand some pressure, but the forces involved in an accident can deform the discs. If the annulus retains its integrity, the disc can bulge from a cylinder into a barrel. If the fibers of the annulus separate, the nucleus can herniate through the opening.
A bulging or herniated disc can press on the spinal cord in your neck. This causes a range of symptoms in your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers, including:
- Tingling or burning
- Loss of dexterity
The compressed disc irritates and inflames the spinal cord. Doctors can treat the inflammation with corticosteroid injections.
They can also remove the compressed disc and fuse the vertebrae. Fusion surgery can stabilize your neck. However, it can also deprive your neck of its flexibility and place additional stress on nearby vertebrae.
The stress on your neck from whiplash can fracture vertebrae. Each vertebra has a cylindrical body and wing-shaped processes. Your spinal cord runs through the spinal canal between the body and processes.
If the body fractures, bone fragments can slide into the spinal canal. There, they can cause a spinal cord injury by compressing or severing nerves. If a bone fragment severs the spinal cord, it could result in paralysis, coma, or death.
The ligaments that hold your spine together attach to the spinous processes. If a process fractures, the ligament cannot hold the vertebrae in place. If it dislocates, it can sever or compress the spinal cord.
A fractured cervical vertebra requires emergency treatment. Doctors will stabilize your neck to reduce the risk of paralysis or death. You may wear a neck brace for eight weeks. In severe cases, you may require surgery and spend up to 12 weeks in traction.
A concussion is not a whiplash injury. But it can result from the same whipping forces that cause whiplash.
A concussion is a mild brain injury. It results from the pressure on your brain when it sloshes inside your skull.
Concussion symptoms include:
- Dizziness or nausea
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
These symptoms usually clear up in about eight weeks. If they do not, you might have post-concussion syndrome.
What Compensation Can I Seek for a Whiplash Injury?
If you suffered a whiplash injury due to someone else’s negligence, you can seek injury compensation. This compensation can cover your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
For a severe case that results in a spinal cord injury, disc damage, or a concussion, you could have substantial economic and non-economic damages. You might miss several weeks of work, have mountains of medical bills, and endure chronic pain.
Contact a Gainesville Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
If you have suffered a whiplash injury in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. To discuss the compensation your whiplash injury might entitle you to, contact today Allen Law Firm, P.A. to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Gainesville personal injury lawyer.