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What Is A “Whiplash” Injury?


The word “whiplash” has taken on almost a derogatory suggestion; to many people, it implies a minor injury, or an injury that is “just whiplash.” But whiplash is not the actual name for what people suffer, and whiplash does in fact suggest an actual injury of some very important structures in the neck.

Why Whiplash Happens

Whiplash happens because we have very heavy heads, that rest atop smaller necks, and because of the forces of inertia, which make our head want to stay in place when we are hit from behind. When our body is thrust forward when we are rear-ended, our head often stays in place, the result being that our heads are whipped backwards, and then forwards.

The result is often what we call whiplash, and although here we’re talking about the neck, the actual injury is one that is common to other parts of the human body.

Ligament Injuries

Whiplash refers to injuries to tissue and ligaments. Medically, they are called sprains or strains, depending on the kinds of ligaments that are injured.

Throughout our bodies, our bones stick together—you may notice that your shoulder bones stay attached to your collar bones, or that your forearm bones stay attached to your upper arms. That happens because ligaments connect and hold together all of these bones.

Ligament injuries to ligaments that hold bone to bone are called sprains. In sports, ankle sprains are common, as are serious anterior cruciate ligament injuries in the knee.

But ligaments also hold your muscles to bones. When those ligaments are injured or damaged, it is called a strain.

Your neck is a prime location for sprain strain injuries, because your neck contains your spinal vertebra, which are bones, as well as the musculature of your neck. Both of those rely on ligaments to hold them together.

Diagnosing Sprains and Strains

It can be somewhat difficult to diagnose a sprain strain injury, because they do not appear on most standard X-rays, and definitely do not appear on the type of X –rays that most hospital emergency rooms provide; patients often are discharged from an emergency room after an accident as being “fine,” but still feel a great deal of pain.

That is because their injury is not to the bone, which can be detected on the hospital X-ray—it is an injury to the ligaments in the neck.

Sprains and strains can affect different people in different ways. Some people, in the moments after an accident that causes a sprain or strain, will feel immediate and severe pain. Others may actually feel no pain, until a few hours after the accident. That slow onset may be caused by the adrenaline after an accident.

They also heal at different rates; some people will heal completely, but for others, the sprain and strain injuries will continue for a lifetime, even if the pain does improve to some degree.

Call the West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys at Pike & Lustig today if you have injured your back in an accident.




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