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How Does Whiplash Occur?

neck x-ray, painful injury, whiplash

Whiplash occurs when the human body is forced back and forth rapidly. Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence in automobile accidents, especially when a vehicle is struck from behind.

People sometimes think that whiplash cannot occur if the vehicles are relatively undamaged. In fact, people in vehicles that have suffered accidents can suffer whiplash no matter what the damage to the vehicle was. It is the force exerted on the people in the car that makes the difference, not how much the car was damaged, it is important to know what to do after an accident, because of the effects a car crash can have on your life.

Contortions of the Cervical Spine (Neck) Lead to Whiplash Symptoms

Research at the Biomechanics Laboratory at Yale University has indicated that the impact from auto accidents can force the cervical spine (neck) to shape itself into an S-shape, rather than its usual C-shape.

The impact causes the neck to be thrown backward and then forward, often rapidly and several times. The rapid movement is why the injury is termed “whiplash.”

As a result, the neck is moving beyond its usual range of motion. This can cause ligament and disc injury. When a whiplash accident occurs, the lower part of the cervical spine moves well beyond its normal range of motion, causing the potential for injury to the ligaments and discs.

The injury can be severe, causing pain, limiting range of motion, and necessitating physical therapy.

Whiplash injuries can also be affected by a person’s posture on impact, their general physical health, and whether or not they are aware that an impact is coming.

  • If a car crash victim is sitting upright, in a good posture, the cervical spine will stabilize efficiently. But if they are slumping over, the effects of the S-shape could be worse.
  • A person in good condition, their cervical spine will stabilize more efficiently than if they are not.
  • If a person is conscious that an impact is coming, they may stabilize their cervical spine automatically. If they don’t see the impact coming, they may not.

Multiple Factors Affect Whiplash Recovery

Whiplash injuries can be complex to treat. Patients may experience pain, difficulty in moving, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, difficulties in focus and concentration, and many other symptoms. These symptoms may appear immediately after the accident or not surface for some time.

The following risk factors affect whether one can fully recover from whiplash injury:

  • Symptoms from whiplash that last more than 6 months. Forty-three percent of victims whose symptoms or pain last longer than this generally fail to completely recover.
  • Ligament, disc, nerve, or joint capsule injuries that are significant.
  • Not receiving prompt treatment.
  • Pain causing resumption of treatment.
  • Symptoms include initial radicular area (arm pain, numbness, tingling)
  • Injuries require a cervical collar used for over two weeks.
  • Being over 65 years of age.
  • Head restraint in the vehicle being more than 2 inches from the occupant’s head
  • Accident occurring in a small car
  • Alcohol over 0.08 blood alcohol content at time of accident.

In addition, several preexisting conditions can affect the speed and rate of recovery from whiplash injuries, including degenerative changes in the neck and back, a previous whiplash injury, and previous cervical spine fusion.

When You Need a Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney

Car accidents cause injuries and death along southern California roads every day. Whiplash can be one of the most serious because of the possibility of long-lasting and debilitating injury.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a whiplash injury, you may be eligible for compensation for medical bills, physical therapy bills, lost time at work, and more.

Discuss your case with the Salamati Law Firm today. We are experienced car accident attorneys in Los Angeles with a long track record of winning substantial damages for our whiplash clients. There is no charge to you for an initial consultation, and we charge no fees unless we win you money.

Additional “Whiplash Injury” Resources:

  1. Ito, S., et al. “Identification of Soft Tissue Whiplash Injuries Through Biomechanical Testing of the Cervical Spine Before and After Simulated Trauma.” 49th Annual Meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society, Poster #1100. https://www.ors.org/Transactions/49/1100.pdf.
  2. WebMD. Neck Strain and Whiplash. https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/neck-strain-whiplash#1.
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