What Is a Whiplash Injury?

Whiplash, or "cervical acceleration-deceleration syndrome (CADS)," is one of the most common injuries resulting from car accidents. It's poorly understood, but whiplash is an injury that involves damage to the muscles, spinal discs, nerves, and tendons all at once. While it typically occurs due to rear-end auto collisions, any event that causes forceful back-and-forth neck movement can cause whiplash: falls from a height, bungee jumping, roller coasters, and other high-impact events. However, by far the most common cause of whiplash is a rear-end collision.

How whiplash injuries form:

  1. Collision causes the seat to push against the passenger, loading the spine with compression force that directs upward against the head.
  2. The body accelerates forward while the head does not, forcing the cervical spine into an unnatural S-curve. Force applied by compression can damage spine discs and joints in the neck.
  3. The head makes contact with the seat with high force, causing soft tissue damage at the front of the neck due to the neck extending backwards.
  4. Upon impact with the seat, the head bounces forward.
  5. The body, restrained by a seat belt, remains in place while the head travels forward. This causes the neck to extend forward, causing soft tissue damage at the back of the neck.

All told, after an accident, the neck has likely suffered potential damage to the soft tissues on every side, while also sustaining damage to discs and joins in the structure of the neck itself. It's worth noting that it doesn't take much force to cause whiplash injury, but the higher the force of impact, the worse the damage will be. High-speed rear-end collisions increases the likelihood that whiplash will result in long-term harm.

The Symptoms of Whiplash

Whiplash obviously results in neck pain, but that pain varies wildly in terms of intensity: whiplash can cause tingling pins-and-needles sensation to excruciating pain. Additionally, the nerves of the cervical spine can also undergo damage due to a whiplash injury. This can result in a wide variety of both physical and neurological symptoms.

Symptoms of whiplash injury include:

  • Stiffness and poor mobility in the neck
  • Pain in the shoulder and upper back
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
  • Blurry vision
  • Issues with memory or focus
  • Inability to sleep
  • Exhaustion

The most serious long-term effects of whiplash affect the stability of the neck itself, which can cause a host of other problems. Radiating pain from the neck into the shoulder and down the arm can also indicate more serious nerve damage. While most whiplash cases will heal within a few days or weeks, the most serious cases can result in months of chronic pain (or longer).

How Is Whiplash Injury Diagnosed?

If you see a doctor immediately after a car accident, they'll conduct a full physical exam to understand the extent of your injuries. If you are showing signs of serious damage, they'll follow that up with tests to examine your bones and soft tissue.

Whiplash may be detected with the following tests:

  • X-ray
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • CT scan (computed tomography)

It's worth noting that an x-ray alone will not be able to detect most whiplash injuries, as nerve or tendon damage doesn't appear on an x-ray. If you're at increased risk for long-term musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. you're female, elderly, or suffer from severe pain), you should advocate for a detailed imaging of your soft tissue.

Complications Caused by Whiplash Injury

As Louisiana injury lawyers, we see beyond the immediate effects of an injury. When we represent someone with severe whiplash and other car accident injuries, we also see the months of physical therapy they'll need to undergo, the hours of work and income they'll lose, the hours spent driving to and from the nearest medical specialist. We see the years of chronic pain they may experience, the social isolation that comes from being unable to move or live the way they once did.

Our job is to make sure that the person at fault for all of those losses is held responsible. At Clayton, Frugé & Ward, we ensure our clients claim compensation for every hour of lost work, for every minute they have to spend in pain caused by someone else's negligence. That's how we've been able to win hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients.

If you or a loved one were injured in a car crash, speak with our firm in a free consultation to discuss your options. Dial (225) 209-9943 or contact us online today.