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Whiplash Injury

Whiplash Injury

Whiplash sounds like a made-up injury. Insurers sometimes even treat it that way. But whiplash injuries are real, and they can have significant impacts on your finances and quality of life.

These injuries happen when the structures in your neck suffer damage. As a result, you might experience pain, swelling, and a limited range of head movement. These symptoms could affect your ability to work or perform necessary tasks like driving or shopping.

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What Neck Structures Can Be Affected By Whiplash?

What Neck Structures Can Be Affected By Whiplash?

Whiplash injuries affect your neck. Some structures in your neck that could experience damage from whiplash include the following:


Your neck includes seven cervical vertebrae. These bones give structure to your neck. Joints between the bones allow your neck to bend and twist. Ligaments hold the vertebrae together at the joints. These tough, elastic bands of tissue also guide the motion of your neck by ensuring it does not bend or twist too far.

Muscles and Tendons

Muscles give your neck its strength. They also move your head. Neck muscles attach through tendons to your skull, vertebrae, collarbones, and shoulder blades.

Intervertebral Discs

Collagen discs sit between each pair of vertebrae. These discs have a tough outer annulus fibrosus that surrounds a soft inner nucleus pulposus. The discs cushion the spine by absorbing shocks. They also give the vertebrae a smooth surface on which to rest, reducing the risk of grinding and wear.

How Does Whiplash Happen?

Whiplash is a hyperextension injury. It happens when the head pulls the neck as a result of your head or body suddenly changing speed or direction.

Your neck keeps your head and body together. This might seem simple, but your head weighs about 11 pounds. When your body and head do not move in the same direction or with the same speed, your neck must pull your head to follow your body.

For example, suppose that you have a pedestrian accident. The vehicle hits you and sends you flying through the air. When your back hits the ground, your body stops. But your head keeps moving until it too hits the ground. Your neck gets jolted when your body stops moving and your head snaps back.

One of the most common causes of whiplash injuries is car accidents. In a frontal collision, your body and head travel forward until your chest hits your seat belt. Since your seat belt does not restrain your head, it keeps moving until your neck stops it.

In the process, your head hyperextends your neck, damaging the neck tissues. As the ligaments pull your head to a stop, the tissues in your neck compress.

If your car gets hit in a side-impact or rear-end collision, your body suddenly moves in response to the impact. Your neck pulls your head to keep up with your body. This time, the sudden change in direction and speed will stress and damage your neck tissues.

What Are Some Examples of Whiplash Injuries?

The forces on your neck can cause several types of injuries that vary in severity and recovery time. Some common whiplash injuries include the following:

Neck Strain

Neck strain happens when the muscles or tendons hyperextend. The resulting stretching and tearing weaken the tissues. The damaged cells also trigger the body’s inflammatory response. 

As a result, neck strain symptoms often include the following:

  • Muscle pain
  • Swelling
  • Neck stiffness and weakness
  • Spasms

A mild strain might require four to six weeks of home treatment to heal. You will likely need to rest your neck. Ice packs and anti-inflammatory medication can reduce the swelling. A severe strain would involve a full-thickness tear in the muscle or tendon. This injury could take several months to heal.

Sprained Neck

Sprains occur when joints hyperextend and damage the ligaments holding them together. In the case of whiplash, the ligaments connecting the vertebrae stretch and tear. The resulting injury may create a popping sound or sensation in the neck when it occurs. 

Other symptoms of a sprained neck include:

  • Spine pain
  • Inflammation
  • Limited range of head movement
  • Neck instability

Like strains, sprains often heal in four to six weeks with home treatment, including rest and anti-inflammatory medication. Doctors do not recommend using a neck brace because it can cause the neck muscles, tendons, and ligaments to weaken, prolonging the healing time. Instead, doctors now recommend exercise and physical therapy to rebuild the damaged tissue.

Disc Injury

The hyperextension your neck experienced during whiplash allows the vertebrae and discs to separate slightly. When your head reverses direction, the discs and vertebrae crush together, compressing the discs. Pressure on the discs can deform them by creating bulges or herniations.

A herniated disc happens when the fibers of the annulus fibrosus fray and separate. The nucleus pulposus squeezes out through the annulus fibrosus, creating a bump or protrusion. A bulging disc happens when the annulus fibrosus weakens without rupturing. Instead of straight or slightly concave sides, the sides sag and bulge to form convex sides.

The compressed disc shortens in height and pulls everything in your back out of place. This pulling creates pain and instability in your back. The deformation in the side of the disc can press on nerve roots that branch from the spinal cord. The pressure causes the nerve roots to inflame and misfire. 

This produces symptoms such as:

  • Pain radiating from your neck into your upper limbs
  • Numbness and tingling in your shoulders, arms, and hands
  • Weakness and loss of dexterity in your fingers

Damaged discs do not heal, and doctors cannot repair them. They can treat the inflamed nerves using anti-inflammatory injections. They can also remove the damaged disc and either fuse the vertebrae or replace it with an artificial disc.


Concussions are not necessarily whiplash injuries because they affect the brain. But they result from the same whipping motion, so concussions and neck injuries often accompany each other.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. It happens when the brain moves inside the skull. The cerebrospinal fluid and meningeal membranes cushion the brain, but the pressure they exert also causes mild damage to the brain tissue. 

As a result, you may experience a range of physical and cognitive symptoms, such as:

  • Headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss

Concussions usually clear up within two months. During that time, your doctor may limit your activities to prevent further brain damage from a second concussion.

Can I Get Compensated For a Whiplash Injury?

You can pursue an injury claim if your injury resulted from someone else’s negligent or otherwise wrongful actions. Through this claim, you can pursue compensation for economic losses such as medical expenses, income losses, and reduced earning capacity. You can also seek compensation for non-economic losses like pain, suffering, and disability.

Whiplash can produce painful injuries that temporarily or permanently disable you. Contact Zehl & Associates Injury & Accident Lawyers at (888) 603-3636 for a free consultation to discuss your injuries and the compensation we can help you pursue.