Whiplash injuries have a bad reputation. Insurers view whiplash with skepticism and question whether accident victims have faked their symptoms. Some people even refer to personal injury attorneys as “whiplash lawyers.”
But these injuries produce real symptoms that can disable you from working or even performing daily tasks like driving, showering, or dressing. You may also need expensive medical treatment and physical therapy. Some whiplash injuries may even require surgery to address symptoms.
The Structure of Your Neck
Your neck has seven cervical vertebrae extending from your skull to your ribcage. These vertebrae meet at facet joints that allow a high degree of motion, allowing you to tilt and turn your head. Ligaments connect the vertebrae, holding them together and guiding their movements.
Discs sit between each pair of vertebrae. The discs are formed from two types of collagen. The outer surface, called the annulus fibrosus, has a tough, smooth texture. The inner core, called the nucleus pulposus, has a soft consistency. Together, these materials cushion the vertebrae, absorbing shocks from walking, running, or jumping.
The neck muscles connect to your spine, skull, collarbones, and shoulder blades. Muscles give your neck strength. They also support and move your head. Your head weighs about 11 pounds, so you need relatively strong neck muscles to control it.
How Whiplash Injuries Happen
As the name suggests, whiplash injuries occur when your neck moves like a whip. The stress on your neck injures the structures inside.
When your body stops, accelerates, or changes direction suddenly, your head does not follow automatically. Instead, your neck must pull it to stay with your body. Whiplash injuries result from the stress on your neck caused by your head moving in one direction and your body moving in another.
To understand the magnitude of the forces involved, imagine a gallon of paint moving at 20 miles per hour or faster. The force you would need to stop the paint can is the force your neck experiences during whiplash. This type of neck trauma can happen in many types of serious incidents, including the following:
The speeds involved in a traffic crash can cause your head to whip violently during a collision. In a car accident, your body moves forward until your chest hits the seat belt. Your body stops, but your head keeps moving. It pulls your neck, causing it to hyperextend.
When you come to a stop, the neck ligaments pull your vertebrae back together, compressing your spine. Your vertebrae crash together under the force. This cycle of hyperextension and compression can damage the structures in your neck even if you do not strike your head on anything.
Slip and Fall Accidents
Whiplash injuries can also happen in a slip and fall accident. In these accidents, your feet lose traction and slide forward. You lose your balance and fall backward. Whether you hit your head or not, the stress on your neck can hyperextend and compress it.
You could also suffer from whiplash when someone intentionally attempts to harm you. For instance, whiplash might occur if a strike to the head snaps your neck back. Similarly, you could suffer whiplash if the assailant shakes you or if they push you and cause a fall.
Examples of Whiplash Injuries
Whiplash is not a single injury. Instead, it is a catch-all term for the many injuries that can result from your head whipping back and forth. Some examples of whiplash injuries include the following:
Strains happen when the muscles and tendons in your neck hyperextend. This hyperextension causes the tissues to stretch and even tear.
The resulting damage produces symptoms such as:
- Muscle pain and spasms
Neck strain usually heals in about six weeks. A severe strain may cause chronic pain or recurring symptoms.
Sprains also result from hyperextension injuries. Sprains happen when the ligaments connecting the vertebrae stretch or tear.
Sprains cause symptoms such as:
- Spine pain
- Limited range of motion
You may need months of rest and physical therapy to recover from a severe sprain. While doctors may perform surgery to repair torn ligaments in other areas of the body, they do not operate on torn neck ligaments.
When trauma compresses the cervical spine, the discs can deform. Whiplash has the potential to cause two main types of disc injury. The first, a herniated disc, happens when the annulus fibrosus breaks down and separates. The nucleus pulposus squeezes out through the annulus and forms a lump on the side of the disc.
The second type, a bulging disc, occurs when the annulus fibrosus weakens but does not separate. The disc smashes down like a pancake and bulges around its perimeter. In both cases, the deformed disc can press on nerve roots extending from the spinal cord.
Compression of a nerve root in the neck produces symptoms such as:
- Pain that radiates into your shoulder, arms, and hands
- Loss of dexterity and fine motor control
A compressed disc will not heal. Doctors can treat the compressed nerve root with anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the symptoms. They can also perform neck surgery to remove the deformed disc and fuse the vertebrae or replace it with an artificial disc.
A fractured vertebra is one of the most dangerous injuries you can suffer. If bone fragments from a broken vertebra dislocate, they can sever the spinal cord. A spinal cord injury can cause paralysis and loss of sensation below the level of the injury.
A concussion is a mild brain injury that happens when your brain shakes inside your skull. As it shakes, it collides with the cerebrospinal fluid and meninges inside your skull. The damage to your neurons causes your brain to swell.
Concussion symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Slurred speech
- Emotional outbursts
These symptoms are usually temporary but can significantly impact the quality of your life and ability to perform daily activities.
Schedule a Free Consultation to Discuss Whiplash With a Lafayette Personal Injury Lawyer
You can seek compensation for whiplash injuries that result from someone else’s negligent or wrongful actions. For example, if someone runs a red light and crashes into your car, you may have an injury claim under Louisiana law. Because they violated a traffic law, you may argue that their actions failed to meet the standard of care expected of drivers.
When you file a personal injury claim, you can seek compensation for economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses include your financial costs and income losses. Non-economic losses include the impact of your injuries on your quality of life.
Whiplash injuries can produce pain and disabilities. Contact our lawyers at Kenny Habetz Injury Law for a free consultation to discuss your whiplash injury and the compensation you can seek under Louisiana law. You can call us at (337) 399-9000.