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Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash refers to injuries to the neck (or cervical spine) caused by a sudden movement of the head, backward and forward (hyperflexion and hyperextension), or sideways. Such injuries are often caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Common Symptoms of Whiplash

Victims of whiplash injuries often suffer from multiple symptoms, including:

  • Neck pain and/or stiffness
  • Headache
  • Pain in the jaw or face
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in the arms or legs, feet and hands
  • Low back pain and/or stiffness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Vertigo
  • Numbness and tingling
Over 65% of whiplash victims complain of neck pain, which typically starts two hours up to two days after the accident. This is often the result of tightened muscles that react to either muscle tears or excessive movement of joints from ligament damage. The muscles tighten in an effort to splint and support the head, limiting the excessive movement. Approximately 70% of those suffering from whiplash complain of headache. The pain may be on one side or both, on again off again or constant, in one spot or more general. These headaches, like the neck pain, are often the result of tightened, tensed muscles trying to keep the head stable and, like tension headaches, they are often felt behind the eyes. Shoulder pain often described as pain radiating down the back of the neck into the shoulder blade area, may also be the result of tensed muscles. Muscle tears are often described as burning pain, prickling or tingling. More severe disc damage may cause sharp pain with certain movements, with or without radiation into the arms, hand and fingers, which are relieved by holding your hand over your head.

How Whiplash Injuries Are Caused by Motor Vehicle Accidents

As a person sits in a car or other vehicle that is struck form behind, or collides with another vehicle, and the person's head is suddenly jerked back and forth (or from side to side) beyond its normal limits, the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine can be over-stretched or torn. In a rear end collision for example, the victim's car is first pushed or accelerated forward and then, because driver's foot is on the brake, or the car hits the vehicle in front, the car rapidly slows down, or decelerates. As the vehicle accelerates forward, it pushes the body forward too, but the head remains behind momentarily, rocking up and back, resulting in the stretching or tearing of some of the muscles and ligaments. Often the injury occurs before the head rebounds off the headrest. If there is no headrest, the injuries sustained are generally even more serious as there is no method to prevent hyperextension from occurring). The victim's muscles, in a reflex action, contract to bring the occupant’s head forward again, and to prevent excessive injury. This overcompensates because at this point the head is already traveling in a forward direction as the car decelerates. This violently rocks the head forward, stretching and tearing more muscles and ligaments. The soft pulpy discs between the vertebrae can bulge, tear, or rupture. Vertebrae can be forced out of their normal position, reducing range of motion. The spinal cord and nerve roots get stretched, irritated, and choked. If the victim is not properly restrained the occupants head may strike the steering wheel or windshield, possibly causing a concussion.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Whiplash

Whiplash symptoms usually result from injury to the neck's soft tissues; the intervertebral discs, muscles, and ligaments. Muscle tears characteristically present with burning pain accompanied by tingling sensations. Ligaments affected by excessive joint movement can cause muscles to defensively tighten limiting motion. 'Wry neck', a condition associated with whiplash, occurs when the neck muscles responsible for head rotation/extension cause the neck to twist involuntarily.

The diagnosis of a whiplash injury is ofeten made following a physical and neurological examination to evaluate the patient's general condition. Initially, radiographs (x-rays) assist in determining whether any fractures exists. Depending on the patient's symptoms, a CAT Scan, MRI, and/or other imaging tests may be necessary to assess the condition of the cervical spine's soft tissues (intervertebral discs, muscles, ligaments).

Treatment for whiplash injuries varies depending on the nature, extent and duration of the injury. Conservative treatment may include immobilizing the patient's neck in a well-fitting soft cervical collar; use of pain, anti-inflammatory, and muscle relaxant medications; and/or physical therapy. Physical therapy can help reduce muscle spasms, increase circulation, and promote healing. Physical therapy may include the use of moist heat, ice, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and exercise to restore range of motion and build strength. If symptoms persist, cervical traction may be incorporated into the treatment plan. In addition, trigger point injections containing a local anesthetic may help alleviate pain and tenderness. If symptoms persist or new symptoms appear, the patient's condition is re-evaluated. Severe extension injuries can damage the intervertebral discs involved. When an intervertebral disc is affected, surgical intervention may instances be required.

Legal Options for Victims of Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash injuries can affect the victim for months and even years after an accident. A whiplash vicitm may miss time from work, require extensive medical and/or chiropractic treatment, incurr substantial expenses for treatment, and be forced to live a restricted life style, unable to enjoy activities pursued prior to the accident. If you or someone you know has suffered a whiplash injury, you should immediately contact a competent attorney.

Our law firm, together with the network of other law firms that we work with, helps victims of personal injury nationally.

Law Office of Joseph A. Hernandez
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