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Whiplash Injury

Whiplash Injury

Some insurers make it sound like whiplash is an imaginary injury. But whiplash can cause pain in your neck and back. It can even limit your range of motion so severely that you suffer temporary or permanent disabilities.

Importantly, whiplash does not describe a single injury. Instead, the term covers a range of injuries that vary in effect and severity.

One person could suffer pain that only lasts a few days, while someone else could require surgery to stabilize their injury and still feel symptoms for the rest of their life.

What Is the Anatomy of Your Neck?

What Is the Anatomy of Your Neck?

Whiplash refers to both a motion your body experiences and the injuries the motion causes. These injuries primarily affect your neck.

Your neck is surprisingly complicated. The spine sits at the center of your neck. The spine includes small bones called vertebrae joined to each other. This structure allows the spine to support the weight of your head while still providing enough flexibility to bend and twist.

You have seven vertebrae in your neck. This section of your spine, called the cervical spine, extends from the base of your skull to the top of your rib cage.

Each vertebra includes a solid body and wing-shaped protrusions called processes. The bodies of the vertebrae stack on top of each other to form a column. This column distributes the weight of your head all the way down your back to your hips.

The processes provide attachment points for ligaments holding the vertebrae together. Tendons also attach muscles to the spine at the processes. These muscles provide strength and movement by connecting the neck to the skull, shoulder blades, and collarbones.

Discs sit between the vertebrae. The discs include a tough exterior and a soft interior made from collagen. The material forming the discs absorbs shocks when you walk or jump.

How Does a Whiplash Injury Happen?

The motion that causes a whiplash injury usually involves rapid acceleration or deceleration. When your body stops or accelerates suddenly, your neck must pull your head to keep it with your torso. This pulling force can be significant because the average human head weighs 10 to 11 pounds.

To envision the forces on your neck in a low-speed car accident, picture a one-gallon metal can of paint at the end of a rope. Now imagine how hard you would need to pull on the rope to stop the can of paint if it were traveling 30 miles per hour. The force on the rope is the same as the force your neck experiences in a crash.

When your neck gets pulled, the structures hyperextend. The ligaments holding your vertebrae together stretch. The tendons and muscles also stretch. The vertebrae separate slightly, and small gaps form between the vertebrae and discs.

As you come to a stop, the ligaments pull the spine back together. The vertebrae crash into each other. And as the vertebrae spring back into place, they compress the discs.

Whiplash Injury Risk Factors

Whiplash injuries usually result from car accidents. Your seat belt restrains your body, but the sudden change in direction causes your head to whip forward, back, or to the side. The cycle of hyperextension and compression that happens as your head whips around damages the bones and soft tissues.

Whiplash can also happen during a slip and fall or elevated fall when you impact the ground. When your body stops, your head keeps moving. Your head snaps back, banging your head and whipping your neck. As a result, you can suffer both head trauma and a whiplash injury.

What Types of Whiplash Injuries Can Occur?

The motions associated with whiplash can produce many injuries, including:

Neck Strain or Sprain

A sprained neck happens when the ligaments between the vertebrae hyperextend. 

The stretched and torn ligaments produce:

  • Spine pain and inflammation
  • Limited range of neck or back motion
  • Popping sensation during the accident

A strained neck occurs when the neck muscles or tendons hyperextend. 

The damaged tissues cause:

  • Muscle pain and spasms
  • Swelling
  • Neck weakness and stiffness

A strained or sprained neck will usually take a month to heal. But it could take longer if you suffered a full-thickness tear of a ligament or tendon. Fortunately, strains and sprains rarely require surgical repair. But you may need to rest your neck until it heals.

Bulging or Herniated Disc

When the vertebrae compress during whiplash, they can crush the discs. Normally, crushed discs spring back into shape. But occasionally, they will deform and form a protrusion on their sides. The deformed disc can stress your neck by pulling your muscles, tendons, and ligaments out of place.

The deformed disc can also press on nerves and nerve roots near your spine. Nerve compression can cause inflammation. 

Inflamed nerves misfire, producing:

  • Radiating pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness
  • Loss of dexterity

Doctors cannot treat deformed discs. Instead, they have two options for relieving the symptoms. They can inject anti-inflammatories into the compressed nerves. These drugs calm the nerves and reduce the symptoms.

In other cases, they will remove the bulging or herniated disc. Doctors can replace it with an artificial disc or simply close the gap left by the discectomy and fuse the vertebrae without a disc between them. In either case, the surgery is risky and might increase stress on the remaining vertebrae.

Fractured Vertebra

The whipping forces can snap the spinous processes or even crack the vertebral bodies. A fractured neck is one of the most dangerous injuries you can suffer. Bone fragments that dislocate into the spinal canal can sever the spinal cord and paralyze you.


A concussion happens when your brain sloshes inside your skull. Although concussions are not whiplash injuries, they can result from the same whipping motions. 

Swelling of brain tissue due to a concussion can produce:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Clumsiness
  • Amnesia

Concussion symptoms usually clear up within two months. But occasionally, you will experience lingering effects for months or even years after your injury.

What Compensation Can You Get for a Whiplash Injury?

You can get compensation for a whiplash injury that results from someone else’s actions. Your compensation can cover your financial costs and reduced quality of life resulting from the injury. Contact or call Tillmann Car Accident & Personal Injury Lawyer at (503) 773-3333 for a free consultation to discuss your whiplash injury and the compensation you can pursue.

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