A Whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by a rapid movement of the head backward, forward, or side-to-side. Whether a result of a auto wreck, sport or your job, neck injuries warrant a thorough physician check-up. The hidden danger with neck injuries is that underlying problems may take years to develop. Too often people don't seek treatment until more serious issues develop, like degenerative arthritis in the injured area, to herniated disks. Even after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, roughly 40% - 55% of previous neck injury sufferers report that they still suffer with symptoms two years later.
In the past, a typical whiplash injury where no bones were broken, were hard to prove from legal standpoint. Soft tissue injuries (injuries to the muscles, ligaments and tendons) do not show up on x-rays, and insurance companies would deny coverage to the injured party. Modern, sophisticated imaging devices (CAT Scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Ultra-Sound) may now show these soft tissue injuries, and therefore insurance companies cover most whiplash injury claims.
When no bones were broken and the head did not impact the windshield, typical symptoms will follow. 92% complain of neck pain, which usually starts within two hours, or up to two days after the accident. This is often the result of neck muscle spasms that react to either muscle tears or excessive movement of joints from the damage done to the ligaments. The muscles typically tighten in an effort to support the weight of the head.
Almost 60% of those suffering from whiplash complain of headaches. The pain may be on one side or both. These headaches are often the result of tightened, tensed neck muscles working to keep the head stable. They are similar to everyday "tension headaches" as they are often felt behind the eyes.
Radicular pain is often described as pain radiating down the back of the neck into the shoulder blade or arm area. This may also be the result of tensed muscles, or even worse, a disk or nerve injury. Muscle tears are often described as burning pain, prickling or tingling. More severe disk or nerve injury may cause sharp, shooting pain with certain movements, that may travel into the arms, hand and fingers. Disc and nerve injury symptoms are normally relieved by holding your hand over your head.
Whiplash occurs commonly when from being struck from behind, at any speed. When the head is suddenly jerked back and forth beyond its normal joint range of motion, the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine can be "strained" (torn muscles) or "sprained" (torn ligaments).
A typical rear-ended auto collision can result in whiplash as follows:
Studies show that the car is first pushed or accelerated forward, and is essentially pushed out from under you as your back forces into the seat. Excessive "shearing forces" develop within the neck and your normal spinal curves then straighten and become compressed. High pressure develops within the brain and skull, and the brain stem is subjected to shearing forces.
An upward rise of your neck then occurs, as your head snaps back over the headrest (and possibly collapses it). Head rest acts as a fulcrum and jaw injury is possible with the high compression within the joint. Here is where some of the muscles and ligaments are stretched or torn in the neck.
The head now suddenly begins a forward or "flexion" motion as the torso sinks into the seat. Then the seat recoils, and you are forced forward, increasing your velocity 30-70% greater than that of your car speed! Any slack in the seatbelt over-the-shoulder harness begins to tighten and restrict motion. Your neck muscles, in a reflex action, contract to bring the the head forward, in an attempt to prevent excessive injury. Unfortunately, because the head is already traveling in a forward direction at such a high velocity, as the car decelerates, there is an "overcompensation".
Overcompensation now violently throws the head forward, stretching more muscles and ligaments in the back of the neck. Full deceleration of the head, neck and torso is now restricted by the shoulder harness. High pressure and sheaing- forces in the spine can cause the soft vertebral discs to bulge, tear, or rupture. Vertebrae can be jostled out of their normal position, resulting in a "vetebral subluxation". The brain stem, spinal cord and nerve get stretched and irritated. A neck with vetebral subluxations may quickly show arthritic joint degeneration if not properly treated within a short time after the accident.