Whiplash is a hyperextension and hyperflexion injury that occurs in the neck. Frequently, a whiplash injury is the result of being struck from behind, as in a rear-end car accident. Rear-end car accidents, in fact, are the most common source of whiplash injuries.
In accidents that cause whiplash, the victim’s body is usually violently pushed or thrown forward first. The victim’s head, however, is just a fraction of a second behind the rest of the body, causing it to angle up and back. This initial motion may stretch or tear ligaments or muscles around the cervical spine.
After this initial lag in reaction, the muscles then contract and snap the head forward in an effort to protect the injured muscles and ligaments. As the head travels forward, some overcompensation may occur, further stretching and tearing muscles and ligaments.
An easy way to visualize the mechanics of a whiplash injury is to think of cracking a whip. First the whip is thrown back and then it snaps forward with all of the momentum gained from the initial backward motion.
Symptoms of a Whiplash Injury
The symptoms of whiplash do not typically appear until 24 to 48 hours after an accident. For this reason, a car accident victim may not immediately realize that he or she has been injured.
Some of the most common symptoms of a whiplash injury include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Headaches, most commonly at the base of the skull
- Blurred vision
- Shoulder pain
- Upper or lower back pain
- Numbness in arm or hand
- Pain down and arm or in a hand
- Memory problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Ringing in the ears
How Serious Is Whiplash?
In some cases, a whiplash injury can heal with conservative treatment within two to three months of the initial injury. Some whiplash injuries though can take significantly longer to heal or may never fully heal.
When the symptoms that accompany a whiplash injury linger for more than a few months it is often because a joint, disc or ligament has been damaged. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes the pain associated with a whiplash injury persists without any obvious medical explanation other than the initial whiplash injury.
Some people make the mistake of assuming that because a crash appeared to be relatively minor or because the vehicles were not traveling at a high rate of speed the occupants did not suffer any injuries. In reality, there is little correlation between crash speed and the extent of injury an occupant suffers. A 5 mph crash, for example, typically produces about 10-12 g of acceleration (vertical acceleration force due to gravity) of the occupant’s head.
How Common Are New York Whiplash Injuries?
According to the Spine Institute of San Diego, over 3 million people suffer whiplash each year. Half of all chronic neck pain suffered by people in the United States is the result of low-speed rear-end crashes.
Of the victims who are injured in a low-speed rear-end collision, approximately 10 percent will suffer permanent injuries. Any whiplash injury should be taken seriously from the moment a victim notices symptoms. Because the symptoms of a whiplash injury may not appear for a day or two after a car accident, it is imperative that you have a complete medical examination as soon as possible after a car accident, whether you feel any obvious signs of injury or not.
If you are the victim of a whiplash injury, then you may be entitled to compensation if another party was at least partially at fault in the accident. Each whiplash injury case presents its own unique set of facts and circumstances, which is why you should consult with an experienced car accident attorney to determine what legal options you have.
Contact Scott C. Gottlieb, Injury Law Attorney, for help. Call (607) 724-7700 or use our online contact form for a no-cost case evaluation.