Whiplash Injuries

Neck Sprains & Soft Tissue Damage Caused By Accidents

Injuries to the soft tissue (muscle, ligaments and tendons) in the neck and upper back can occur when the neck is forced past its normal range of motion.  These injuries are commonly referred to by the non-medical term of “whiplash.”  The majority of all “whiplash” injuries occur as a result of the injured person’s vehicle being struck from behind or “rear-ended.”

How does a neck sprain (whiplash) occur?

Under normal circumstances, an individual driving a vehicle does not rest their head on the head rest.  Rather, the shoulders and back rest against the seat and the head is forward of the back and the cervical spine has a natural curvature to it.  When a vehicle is struck from behind, the seat back is driven into the upper back and torso of the individual forcing it forward.  Because the transfer of energy to the head which is not resting against an inanimate object, is not as great as that which is transferred to the torso, the torso continues to accelerate forward while the head remains relatively still.

Cervical Strains

This in turn results in a straightening of the cervical spine as the torso continues to follow the initial momentum forward.  As a result of the torso being driven forward, ultimately the cervical spine bends the opposite way almost in an “s” shape, and is soon followed by the head being pulled backwards against the headrest.  The resulting injuries are commonly referred to by doctors as cervical strain, cervical hyperextension injury and acceleration flexion-extension neck injury.

Symptons of Cervical Strains

Symptoms of cervical strains include head aches, stiff muscles and muscle pains and restricted range of motion, shooting pain from the neck down to the shoulder and arms, and tenderness and swelling of the neck.

Designs of Cars Matter

The speed of the vehicle at the time of impact is not the determinative factor regarding the extent and severity of the resulting injury.   While obviously speed is an important factor because increased speed will ordinarily result in increased momentum transfer, the design of the vehicle, including frame, bumper, seat and headrest; body position; and ability to brace for the collision are all things that can factor into the severity of the resulting injury.  In some circumstances, traumatic head injuries and nerve damage can result merely as a result of the “whiplash” motion of the neck and head without there being “serious” damage to the vehicles involved.

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