One of the most common types of neck injury is the whiplash. Whiplash injuries can result from front-end and side-impact collisions, but most often they occur due to rear-end auto collisions. In fact, over 1 million rear-end collisions occur every year in the U.S. While most whiplash injuries are minor and will heal within a few weeks with proper care, about 20 to 30 percent of whiplash injuries become chronic and will lead to long-term discomfort. For this reason, spotting the symptoms of a whiplash injury, seeking proper care for these injuries, and monitoring the progress of these injuries are all critical tasks for a potential plaintiff after an auto accident has occurred.
Symptoms Of Whiplash
The classic symptoms of whiplash may occur immediately after the incident or may develop several days after the incident. The symptoms may not develop at the same time, and some may become apparent only with the passage of time. Thus, it is important to pay attention to your symptoms immediately after the accident and for several days and possibly even weeks after the accident.
The following are some of the most common symptoms to be aware of:
- Shoulder/Neck/Arm pain
- Jaw pain
- Visual Disturbances
- Emotional complaints
Understanding How Whiplash Occurs
To understand how whiplash occurs, you must first understand the proper movements and functions of your spine and neck. Your spine supports your body weight, aids in movement, and serves as a passageway for your spinal cord and nervous system. The spine is made up of 25 bones, or vertebrae, that are individually designed for specific roles. Each vertebrae is separated by a tough disc that cushions the bones and allows flexibility and movement. The spine as a whole, with its many bones and discs, is capable of very large motions. But each individual joint by itself allows only a few degrees of movement.
The neck is the most flexible part of the spine. It allows your head to move in practically any direction. But its flexibility also makes it the area of the spine that is most vulnerable to injury.
The key to the movement of the cervical spine (or neck region) is what is known as the facet joint. The facet joint is part of each neck vertebrae, and it allows the bones to glide smoothly over each other. All of these neck facet joints moving together make it possible for the head to nod forward and backward.
The bottom line on whiplash is this: Your body was not designed for the abnormal motions that occur during a rear end collision. Normally, when your head moves forward and backward, all of the vertebrae participate equally and safely in the motion. Whiplash, however, is not normal motion. During a rear end collision, which takes place in about the same time as a snap of your finger, your head is thrown backwards so forcibly and quickly that your body does not have a chance to respond.
Let's look at what happens to your neck during the four phases of a rear-end collision.
You're sitting in your car with your head and neck positioned normally. Figure I shows what your neck looks like in normal position just before a collision.
Immediately after impact, inertia keeps your body momentarily at rest, while the car moves forward and then the car seat shoves your back and chest forward. This results in your spine straightening. Inertia initially keeps your head at rest. This rapid straightening creates a great deal of pressure on your neck joints.
Next, within just a fraction of a second, your head and neck appear to move backwards, but in reality it's your chest moving forward that causes your neck to arc backwards. This type of overextension of the neck backward beyond its neutral position is called Hyperextension. The act of your chest and your neck being yanked in opposite directions results in sharp bending in just one or two joints in your neck. Instead of the joints moving together in little movements, all of the stress is focused in one small area of your spine, resulting in a hyperextension injury.
Finally, your head rebounds forward, resulting in a hyperflexion injury, which is the flexion of the neck forward beyond its normal limit.
If you were injured in a front-end collision, the biomechanical procedure is reversed, and you would first suffer a hyperflexion injury and then a hyperextension injury.
Why Whiplashes Can Be So Painful
All of the most common symptoms of whiplash can be traced either directly or indirectly to the trauma your neck experienced.
There are three major types of injury that whiplash can cause: muscle and ligamentous injury, nerve injury, and facet joint injury.
Muscle And Ligamentous Injury
Most whiplash pain involves muscle and ligamentous tissue, since they are the most easy to damage in a collision. During the impact, the muscles and ligaments in your neck are stretched beyond what they normally experience. Muscle and ligamentous damage is accompanied by swelling and tenderness of the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Fortunately, most muscle and ligamentous injuries heal quickly and usually don't require extensive or lengthy treatment.
Just as muscles are stretched during the rapid motion of whiplash, so are nerves. Most nerves are able to handle such motion. But if your head is turned or if your head restraint is not adjusted properly, a nerve can be stretched too far or pinched. Nerve injuries can be more difficult to treat than muscle damage. In some cases, nerves that are trapped by bones or muscles may require more extensive therapy or even surgery.
Facet Joint Injury
Facet joint injury can show itself in a variety of ways. Pain in the area of the joint is the most common symptom. Facet damage, though, can also result in pain that is felt elsewhere in the body - shoulder and arm pain are common whiplash complaints that may be related to facet joint injury.
Treatment of joint damage can be more difficult for many reasons. First, the joint itself does not have a good supply of blood, which makes it hard for the tissues to heal. Secondly, constant motion of the joint and swelling can irritate the injury.
Your doctor can determine the cause of your pain, and help you decide the best treatment. The goal of treatment is to help the damaged tissues heal from the injury. This may take time, depending upon the diagnosis.
We believe that aggressive treatment during the first few weeks after an injury provides the best chance of complete recovery.
At Easton & Easton, LLP, our years of experience allow us to seamlessly assess and coordinate medical care to make certain the full extent of our clients' injuries are identified, treated, and provable. So, if you need assistance finding an experienced doctor who will treat your symptoms aggressively, our lawyers can help.
We understand the tricks, stratagems, and defenses the insurance companies and their attorneys use to defeat or minimize a claim, and at Easton & Easton, LLP we utilize our experience, skill, and dedication to make certain our clients do not fall victim to the insurance companies' tricks and stratagems.
Please call us at 800-461-8259 for a free initial consultation. If we do not take your case, there is no charge.