Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash Injuries

     Whiplash refers to an injury to the neck muscles and muscle attachments such as ligaments and possibly the disks that separate the vertebrates of the spine.  Whiplash commonly results from a rear end vehicle collision.  This collision results in a rapid forward acceleration of the body and neck while the head remains in place.  This is followed by a rapid whip like movement of the head as it accelerates to catch up with the forward momentum of the body.  When this occurs the vertebra in the lower spine extend backward while the upper half flexes forwards.  This results in a stretching of the ligaments and possible tissue tearing.  Microscopic tearing begins to occur at about 3 to 5% of tissue strain.  When the strain gets closer to 7-8% more significant tearing occurs.  The extent of this tearing and thus injury will depend in part on the physical characteristics of the individual.  For example, males can typically withstand greater force as they tend to have more muscle mass in the neck region which reduces tearing.  Other factors which may affect the amount of tearing are such things as whether the individual was wearing a seatbelt, whether the impact was anticipated, along with the position of the driver or passenger while in the car.  The extent of the injury is of course also dependent on the force of the collision along with other factors such as the adjustment of the headrest and the angle of the driver or passenger seat. 

     Whiplash is typically caused by motor vehicle injuries.  However it can happen from slip and fall accidents as well.  Whiplash can also result from athletic endeavors such as football injuries.  Motor vehicle accidents resulting in whiplash injuries are often the result of inattentive driving.  Cell phones are big contributing cause.  The reason isn’t so much the use of the hands on the cell phone but more so the cognitive workload placed on the driver as a result from being involved in a telephone conversation.  The problem is compounded when an individual is texting while driving.  When the driver is texting he is again having to deal with the additional cognitive workload required by conversing with someone on the phone in addition to driving.  However at the same time the driver now has to take his eyes off of the road to look at the phone and additionally take his hands off of the steering wheel so that he can text message.  This creates a very dangerous situation.  Rear end collisions are thus often a result of this type of conduct.   

     Whiplash injuries are detrimental for several reasons.  One of the primary repercussions of whiplash injuries is the effect such injury has on a person’s ability to balance.  A person’s ability to balance is a result of coordination between the ears, the eyes and neurological signaling from the neck and spine.  After a neck injury a human’s ability to balance can be substantially harmed.   This can result in dizziness and nausea and a feeling of being unsure as to one’s footing.  An often unknown repercussion of whiplash is the psychological damages it can cause.  Victims of whiplash may experience depression, the symptoms of which may be more significant than the physical harms of the injury.  

     Many individuals who experience whiplash believe that they need to undergo bed rest.  They thus try to restrict movement of the neck in an effort to give the injury time to heal.  Unfortunately this may not be the best thing to do.  The reason for this is that following this type of injury the neck needs to continue to move properly if it is going to heal.  This is why neck collars are frowned upon by some doctors.  Many doctors advocate remaining active and ignoring minor discomfort following this type of injury. 

     There is a misconception amongst many individuals today that low speed car crash cannot cause whiplash or injury to the spine and neck.  This is not true.  In fact some research tells us that low speed rear end collisions can cause more harm or injury to the neck and back.  The reason for this is due in part to the way in which modern vehicles are designed.  Vehicles today are designed to crush or dent upon sufficient impact.  When the bumper or body of the vehicle crushes in this way it absorbs the force of the colliding vehicle.  In this way the force is realized by the bending body of the car as opposed to the occupants within the vehicle.  However, when the impact is not of sufficient force then the body or bumper of the vehicle does not crush or dent which would otherwise absorb the impact.  As a result, the force is transferred to and realized by the occupants inside the vehicle. 

     Many individuals suffer serious injuries in small accidents because they have pre-existing injuries which are aggravated by the accident.  This is especially the case for older people.  Older individuals may have arthritis or disk degeneration which makes them even more susceptible to injury following a car collision. 

     Keep in mind that after a car accident an individual will often feel fine.  They thus don’t present themselves to the hospital.  Defense attorneys will try to argue that the plaintiff could not have been hurt so badly if he didn’t even bother to go to the hospital after the crash.  Sometimes the plaintiff won’t go to the hospital for a few day following an accident.  The reason for this is that the extent of the injury won’t set in for hours or days after the accident occurs.  After an abrupt impact such as a car accident the body often goes into shock.  When the body is in this shock state it doesn’t detect pain as it ordinarily would.  Only after the body comes out of shock is the pain associated with the injury noticed by the individual.  The pain will likely gradually present itself at this point, often coupled with feelings of dizziness and headaches. 

     If you have been involved in a car accident you need to see a doctor immediately.  If you don’t feel pain at the moment it may be because you are still in a state of shock.  If you have untreated whiplash understand that even after the pain goes away in the future you may as a result have decreased mobility along with other damages which may make you more susceptible to other injuries in the future. 

     As a personal injury attorney it is important that I have an understanding of whiplash injuries, to that end I write this brief article.  Please understand that I am not a medical doctor and thus if you wish to have a thorough understanding of whiplash injuries then you should consult with a medical doctor.