Sacramento Whiplash Accident Attorney

There is probably no other injury that generates as much controversy in the healthcare community as whiplash injuries do. One of the reasons is that, unlike broken bones, spine injuries, or cuts and bruises, there is no predictable way to treat whiplash. There are such a great number of physiological elements involved (muscles, joints, nerves, and connective tissues), and a wide array of ways this injury can happen (head-on crash, side crash, hit from behind), so whiplash can present in as many different ways.

When you’ve been rear-ended (hit from behind by another car), the forces your body is subject to are immense, and it all happens very quickly (all four phases in less than half a second). Each phase carries with it different forces acting upon the body that have the potential to severely damage several different parts of the body including vertebrae, spinal nerves and discs, and muscles and ligaments along the neck and spine.

The Four Phases of a Whiplash Injury

As we’re discussing the four phases of whiplash, it helps to picture a car accident happening in very slow motion. The following phases will describe what happens to your body in relation to the car you’re traveling in.

  1. The first phase of whiplash occurs when you’ve been hit, and your car begins to push out from underneath you. This causes your mid back to flatten against your seat. An upwards force in the neck portion of your spine occurs which compresses your vertebrae and the discs between them. The seat back begins to push your torso ahead, and while this is happening, your head moves backward. This results in a kind of “shearing” force to occur within your neck. Hopefully, your head restraint is adjusted properly, because if it is, your head will not be able to move too far backward. Even so, the majority of damage to your spine will happen before your head ever touches the restraint.
  2. In the second phase of whiplash, your torso is moving at 1.5 to 2 times as fast as your vehicle is, but your head and neck are still in that backwards position, and continue to move backwards. Your seat recoils forward, which just adds to your torso movement. Still, your head has not begun to move forward yet, and this is where much of the damage to internal structures occurs.
  3. During phase three, your car begins to slow down, and it’s very likely that you begin to hit the brakes. Strangely enough, hitting the brakes and slowing your car down quicker is one of the things that causes the severity of whiplash. Your torso is moving back down the seat, and your head and neck are moving forward at their fastest. Your torso is beginning to press tightly against your seat restraints.
  4. During phase four is where the majority of the damage occurs in whiplash. Your torso is pressed tightly against your seat belt and shoulder harness, stopping your body, but your head and neck are flexing forward. This flexion is violent and severe because while your body is held in place by your seat restraints, there is nothing holding your neck or head in place. If you do not have seat restraints in place, you can easily suffer a concussion, brain injury, or death from going through the windshield, depending on the force with which you’re hit. Even if you do have your seatbelt on, your brain can hit the inside of your skull, which can cause brain injury or concussion.

Specific Whiplash Injuries

There are so many different injuries that can occur from whiplash that it could make up a separate article altogether. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the more common injuries and the treatment protocol for each.

Neck Pain

Neck pain is the number one complaint and symptom of a whiplash injury, and will occur in over 90% of those who have whiplash. The pain doesn’t usually stop in the neck, though. Spinal pain, radiating pain into the shoulders, up onto the head, and/or down between the shoulder blades are all common complaints, as are muscular pain due to muscle and ligament tears.

A symptom called “facet joint pain” is very common, and is felt just to the left or right of the center of the back of the neck. It’s very tender to the touch, and can’t be seen on x-rays or MRIs.

Headaches

Headaches affect over 80% of those suffering from whiplash. The headache may be from a brain injury, or it may be from damage to the muscles and ligaments in the cervical spine, which will shoot pain into the head.

TMJ (tempromandibular joint dysfunction)

Issues with your jaw joints that result from a whiplash injury can be devastating. Pain, jaw clicking and popping noises, headaches, facial pain, ear pain, and pain while eating are all common symptoms of TMJ. Dentist and some chiropractors are specially trained to be able to treat TMJ to restore normal range of motion, and alleviate pain in this area.

Brain Injury

It’s very common to have a mild brain injury after a whiplash event because the brain also continues to move when the head is stationary, and it hits the inside of the skull with incredible force. The brain is a structure that can sustain injury in the form of bruising or bleeding, and swelling can occur. If you’ve suffered a mild concussion, you may have lost consciousness temporarily during the accident, and may be confused or agitated just after.

Dizziness

Damage to the facet joints of the neck will cause dizziness, but dizziness can also be a sign of brain or brain stem injury. It is usually temporary.

Lower Back Pain

Because of the way your spine is connected all the way from your neck down to your tailbone, a whiplash injury could include pain in the lower back region as well, as muscles and ligaments have been strained and possibly torn due to the severe forces that occurred during the accident.

Whiplash Treatment

Most whiplash injuries are mild, treatable, and will see significant healing within nine months after the initial injury. About 20% of whiplash injuries will continue to have pain, muscular weakness, or difficulty with full range of motion for up to two years, or longer.

A variety of treatments are available ranging from physical therapy to chiropractic work and massage therapy.