Whiplash mostly affects the muscles of your neck. But severe accidents can also damage the bones, discs, and nerves in your neck. Injuries to these tissues can cause long-term symptoms that affect your entire upper body.
Read on to learn about the causes and effects of a whiplash injury and how you can seek compensation for it.
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What is the Structure of Your Neck?
Your cervical spine runs through your neck. The cervical section of your spine includes the top seven vertebrae below your skull.
The spinal cord connects your brain to your body. The spinal cord begins in your cervical spine and runs through an opening in the vertebrae called the spinal canal.
Intervertebral discs sit between adjacent vertebrae. These fibrous cylinders cushion the vertebrae and allow you to bend and twist your neck.
Ligaments hold the vertebrae together. The tension in these ligaments also keeps the discs in place.
The muscles that control your head, neck, and shoulders come together in your neck. The splenius muscles connect your head to your neck. The trapezius muscles connect your neck to your shoulders and back. Several other muscles pass through your neck to anchor the sides and front of your skull to your collarbones.
How Does a Whiplash Injury Happen?
When your body hits something, or something hits your body, momentum gets transferred. But since your body isn’t rigid, different parts will move at different speeds.
This difference in speeds causes whiplash. When your chest or abdomen hits something, like a seatbelt, your head keeps moving. The force to stop the motion of your head must come from your neck.
Your head weighs about 11 pounds. That is roughly equivalent to the weight of a bowling ball. When you get into a car accident at freeway speeds, your neck exerts about the same force needed to stop a gallon of paint traveling at 60 miles per hour.
Your head whips forward, hyperextending your neck. As your neck stops your head and rebounds, your neck compresses. This hyperextension and compression can injure the structures inside your neck.
What Are the Types of Whiplash Injuries?
Whiplash injuries can take many different forms, including:
Strains and Sprains
The force needed to stop your head can stretch or tear the muscles and tendons of your neck, causing neck strain.
Symptoms of neck strain include:
- Muscle pain in the head, neck, and shoulders
- Muscle spasms
Whiplash can also stretch or tear the ligaments holding your vertebrae together. This results in a sprained neck.
Symptoms of a sprained neck include:
- A popping sound or sensation during the accident
- Neck instability
Strains and sprains usually heal over a few weeks with rest and ice. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control pain and inflammation. During your recovery, your doctor may recommend physical therapy to strengthen nearby muscles to support the injured area.
When your neck hyperextends, the tension in the ligaments can fracture the wing-shaped protrusions on your vertebrae, called spinous processes. When your neck compresses, the impact of the colliding vertebrae can also cause a fracture.
Fractured vertebrae can cause a spinal cord injury. When a spinous process fractures, the vertebra can slip out of place. Bone fragments from a fractured vertebra can migrate into the spinal canal. In either case, the displaced bone could sever or compress the spinal cord.
Quadriplegia or death can result from a severed spinal cord in the neck. The nerves in the neck control all four of your limbs as well as your breathing.
If you fracture a vertebra in your neck, doctors will immobilize your neck so the bones can heal without causing further damage to your spinal cord. If your spinal cord gets severed, you will likely suffer permanent paralysis.
The discs that sit between vertebrae have a fibrous annulus surrounding a gel-like nucleus. The compression of your neck can crush the discs. This can cause the discs to form a bulge. It can also cause the discs to rupture so that the nucleus protrudes or herniates out of the disc.
The damaged disc can press on your spinal cord. The inflamed spinal cord cannot transmit nerve signals correctly and can misfire.
Symptoms of a bulging or herniated disc in your neck include:
- Pain that radiates into the shoulders, arms, or hands
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness or tingling in your arms or legs
- Loss of dexterity
Doctors have a few options for treating a damaged disc. They can use pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs to control the inflammation. They can also remove the disc and fuse the vertebrae.
Concussions Related to Whiplash
Whiplash does not cause concussions. But the motions that cause whiplash can also cause a concussion.
A concussion happens when your brain sloshes inside your skull. The pressure on your brain from the sloshing causes your brain to inflame.
Symptoms of a concussion include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Ringing in your ears
- Blurry vision
- Slurred speech
The symptoms of a concussion may take a few days to appear as your brain swells. They usually clear up within two months with rest.
What Compensation Can I Seek for Whiplash Injuries?
If you suffered whiplash in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you can seek compensation for both economic and non-economic losses.
Economic damages include the monetary costs of your injury. Typical economic losses include past and future medical bills, lost income, and diminished earning capacity. If you suffer a spinal cord injury or other nerve damage from whiplash, your injury might require ongoing treatment and interfere with your ability to work.
Non-economic losses include the ways your injury diminished your quality of life. Physical pain, depression, and an inability to perform daily tasks all qualify as non-economic damages.
Contact a Miami Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
Whiplash can cause neck pain and damage to your cervical spine. It can also injure your spinal cord, causing a range of long-term effects throughout your body. To find out how you may be able to pursue compensation for your whiplash injury, contact today the Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation with an experienced Miami personal injury lawyer.