Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash is a common injury suffered in automobile accidents. The word whiplash is not a medical term or diagnosis; however, it is commonly used by doctors in emergency rooms to inform patients about the injury that they have suffered. "Whiplash" is merely a descriptive term that describes the biomechanical physics applied to the neck in the accident that produces the injury. It is more appropriate to refer to this injury as a hyperflexion/hyperextension injury or a "cervical strain/sprain," as the term "whiplash" has a negative connotation implying that the injury is faked or not severe. A cervical sprain is a painful injury as those who have suffered it will readily attest to.

The spine is divided into three sections - the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar areas. The cervical spine refers to what we commonly refer to as the neck area of the body; the low back is the lumbar spine and the middle portion of the back where the ribs connect to the spine is the thoracic spine.

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The cervical spine has the smallest vertebrae in the body and is supported by layers of ligaments and muscles that provide most of its structure.

The spinal cord runs from the brain down the spine, and nerves emanate from the spinal cord at each vertebral level and are distributed throughout the body like a network of electrical circuits.

When a person is rear-ended in an automobile accident, the automobile is accelerated out from underneath the person's head. As the vehicle is pushed forward from the impact, the head snaps backwards. This movement is greater than the neck's normal range of motion and the anterior (front) muscles of the neck are ripped, stretched and torn. A millisecond later, the head is thrust forward to catch up with the body and as a result flexes forward farther than its normal range of motion also injuring the posterior muscles (back of the neck.)

Many people who suffer severe whiplash injuries as a result of a rear-end automobile accident do not realize at the scene that their neck has been injured. The drivers are usually in shock and pumped up with adrenaline. After the accident the neck slowly begins to stiffen up and within 12-48 hours the injured muscles go into spasm and become very painful. The "spasm" is nature's way of splinting the neck muscles to allow them to begin the healing process. When a person's neck is x-rayed following a rear-end accident, there is usually no direct finding of injury as x-rays show only bony tissue and do not reveal the injured soft tissue. However, persons whose neck muscles are in spasm from an accident, have an abnormally straight neck which is known as the "straightening of the cervical lordosis," an objective finding.

The usual course of treatment is the alternating application of ice and heat to the neck. Usually the treating physician will also prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication and a muscle relaxant. Sometimes narcotic pain medication is also given in severe neck sprain situations.

After a period of a week or ten days, physicians usually prescribe physical therapy. The physical therapists apply ultrasound treatment and electrical muscle stimulation treatments that are designed to encourage blood flow into the damage tissues and maintain the length and flexibility of the injured muscles.

Gradually over a period of six months or more, the muscles repair themselves through the formation of fibrotic tissue or scar tissue. The scar tissue is thick and less resilient than the muscle tissue that it is replacing. As a result, there is a structural change in the injured muscle which, depending upon where the scar tissue develops and how much grows, the person may be left with a chronic condition that will be problematic for the rest of his life.

With the help of The Farber Law Group, a Washington law firm experienced and knowledgeable in handling auto accident cases, you may be able to recover the full amount of your damages, including pain and suffering. Please contact us for more information and to schedule a free consultation.