“Whiplash” is an outdated term that described what is more accurately known as an acceleration/deceleration injury to the cervical spine (neck). This type of injury is commonly associated with rear-end automobile accidents because a rear-end automobile impact will normally cause the head and neck to move in a backward and forward plane of motion in rapid succession. Depending upon the force of the impact this forward/backward motion can be very slight, or can result in a vicious snap of the neck. The snap comes from the weight of the skull and enclosed brain moving quickly on top of a fairly thin elongated neck.
Although many people think of “whiplash” as a relatively minor injury, the effects of the snapping nature of the motion can vary. Whiplash can sometimes cause what is called a strain/sprain injury to muscles and other soft tissues (i.e. non-bony tissues). This type of injury will generally not be debilitating but can be very painful for a short time, or for a lifetime. This type of injury is often treated by general practitioner medical doctors, physiatrists, physical medicine doctors, orthopedic doctors, chiropractors, and osteopathic doctors.
Whiplash injuries may be more severe and make cause injuries or damage to a person’s cervical discs. Discs are small cushions that sit between each bone that makes up the spinal column. Discs are supposed to be soft and pliable, allowing a person to move in a wide variety of ranges of motion. The outer surfaces of discs are fibrous and fairly tough, while the inside is more like jelly. When discs become injured or overstressed by a whiplash, the inner jelly-like material can bulge, protrude, or even herniated all the way through the outside fibrous surface (annulus) of the disc. When the inner material pushes through the annulus it can come into contact with nerves and other nearby material and cause pain or numbness or tingling. A disc injury is a serious matter and should be treated by an orthopedic surgeon, neurosurgeon, or pain management specialist.
Increasingly, medical science is beginning to understand that the human brain can also be injured by the whiplash motion. This type of injury to the brain is sometimes called a coup/contrecoup injury. The easiest way to explain this type of injury is to imagine the brain being forced against the inside of the front of the skull, and then quickly forced against the inside of the back of the skull. This kind of force can cause microscopic injuries or worse to the tissues of the brain. Most times this type of injury will be accompanied by an actual blow to the head such as from a headrest or steering wheel.
The important thing to remember about any spinal injury is that all human beings are unique in their physical makeup and in the medical histories. An accident that might cause no injury to one person, maybe disabling to another person, or may even result in death. There is no scientifically accurate way to look at a car accident and draw any reliable conclusions about what kind of injuries could or could not have been sustained in the crash.
Attorney Kim Cullen represents people from Tampa to Orlando to Daytona Beach who have suffered whiplash with minor and major injuries as a result of a car accident. Call Kim at 407-644-4444 with your questions.