Michigan City Whiplash Injury Lawyer
The term whiplash is bandied around by everyone. The picture that folks get in their mind can be from the Matlock show where somebody is in court with neck brace and then they leave court and take off the brace and they look fine. People use the word whiplash to describe an injury after a car rear end car crash. The mechanism is that the person's head initially ramps over the head rest and then comes forward into flexion. The problem with the term and the years of propaganda from the insurance industry, is that many folks believe a whiplash is a short-term problem that will go away in a 4-12 weeks. The truth is that for a majority of whiplashes the 4-12 week window is true, however for some, whiplash is complex and can bother some people for the rest of their lives. Over the years, I can't tell you how many people have told me that their neck was never the same after a car accident that they had 15 or 20 years earlier. They go on to explain that it doesn't bother them every day, but it has never been right and continues to impact their quality of life.
What the heck is a Whiplash?
The typical scenario is a rear end crash where there is a quick acceleration of the vehicle by by a deceleration of the neck. Hence, the technical term is an acceleration/deceleration injury, which most folks call “whiplash”.
Think about this, you're stopped at the intersection of US 421 and US 20 in Michigan City. At that time, you and your car are stopped (there is no motion). The Dude driving behind you is playing on his phone and runs into the back of your vehicle. At that moment, the energy from the Dude's vehicle goes into your car and causes your car to move forward. Because the force from the other Dude's vehicle is transferred through your car, your body and neck is still stationary. This initial movement is called acceleration. With the forward motion, your neck moves backwards (extends) towards or over the headrest. Depending on the height of your headrest. If you look up the ceiling, you are extending your neck. If you bring your chin to your chest you are flexing your neck..
After your neck extends back to the headrest, your body beings to catch up with the forward movement of the car and your neck moves forward into flexion. In whiplash terminology, this is called Deceleration. So the term whiplash comes from the head going backwards and forwards. Another term for the mechanism of whiplash is hyperextension - hyperflexion.
Complaints after a Whiplash Injury
Because whiplash can cause a whole bunch of symptoms, insurance companies and insurance company doctors think the injured person is full of ___t. Folks who sustain a whiplash injury can experience, one or more of these complaints.
- Neck Pain
- Neck Stiffness
- Trapezius pain
- Pain in the jaw
- Pain that travels into the arm
- Tingling sensation/ pins and needles into the arm
- Ringing or buzzing the ears
- Vision changes
- Mid-Back Pain
- Low Back Pain
Why can a person with a Whiplash have so many different symptoms?
Well because I was initially trained as a chiropractic physician and treated 100s of people who suffered with whiplash injuries, I am glad you asked, because I can answer this question. Bear with me, but we first have to learn a little bit about the anatomy of the body.
Let's explain the neuromuscular skeletal system. For this discussion, we are looking at muscles, nerves and the skeletal system (bones that protect the nervous system).
The anatomy involved in a Whiplash Injury
The skeletal system sole purpose is to provide structure, support and protection to the body. For instance, the skull is hard to protect the brain. How many times have you called someone who doesn't listen a hard head? This skull sits on the top of the spine and articulates with C1, also called the atlas.
The vertebrae are odd shaped bones in the neck. There are seven of them and they are usually labeled C1-C7. Only the first two vertebrae in the neck get their own names – The Atlas (C1) and The axis (C2). If you think about it for a moment, you can probably figure out why these two vertebrae get their names. Remember, what Atlas did in Greek mythology? Every picture of Atlas shows him holding up the celestial heavens. This is exactly what C1 does in the neck. It holds up our head.
The Second Cervical vertebrae or Axis also describes its function, which is to provide a place for a significant amount of rotation in the neck. This happens because C2 has a stump on the top called the odontoid process that comes up through the atlas and provides the structure that allows us to look over our shoulders or rotate our heads.
Teach one of these vertebrae are also designed to protect the spinal cord that is running down from the brain stem through the center of the vertebral column. At each vertebral level, there is a whole, which allows nerves that come off of the spinal cord to travel to different parts of the body and supply nerve function. With all this going on, the vertebrae is required to move, so there are a bunch of weird angles between the vertebrae, you may have heard of these, they are called vertebral facets.
Because this system is so intricate, if one vertebrae is injured and can't function like the rest of them, it can cause problems. So there you have a general overview of the vertebrae or bones, the skeletal part of the neuromuscular skeletal system.
The Muscular part of the Neuromuscular Skeletal System
It is important to expand the muscular part of the neuromuscular system to include connective tissues. First, the muscles primary job is to move the bones. For instance, if you are going to flex your forearm on your arm, the biceps brachia will contract and bring the forearm up to the arm.
Disc are spacers in between the vertebrae. They are a bunch of concentric rings of cartilage with a fluid filled center (nucleus) just like a jelly filled donut. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine. They are real strong when it comes to up and down (axial ) forces but they are susceptible to injury with rotational or torsional forces.
Ligaments are also pretty important in the neuromuscular skeletal system. Ligaments are connective tissue that attach from one bone to another. The main function of a ligament is to stop too much movement. It helps give structure and support to the skeletal system. If you ever sprained your ankle, you stretched ligaments when you twisted the ankle. At each vertebral level, where the vertebrae come together to form the joint (facet joint), the joint is covered with ligamentous material and that is called the capsule. Ligaments are pretty good at their job; however, they don't heal very well because they don't have a great blood supply, which is why if you look in an anatomy book – ligaments will usually look white.
The tendons job is to the connect a muscle or a bunch of muscles to bone.
The Nerves involved in Whiplash Injuries
There are three components to the nervous system: (1) central nervous system (CNS); (2) peripheral nervous system (PNS); and (3) autonomic nervous system (ANS). For the purpose of our discussion, we are only going to discuss the central and peripheral portions of the nervous system.
The Central Nervous System (CNS)
The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. The brain has many parts like the cortex, cerebellum, and brain stem. It is best to analogize the CNS as a super highway. Take I-65. Think about I-65 it runs north and south from Louisville to Gary. In some areas there are four lanes - in other areas there are six lanes.
The northbound lanes of I-65 are like the afferent (sensory part of the nervous system), these lanes take information from the body (Louisville) up the main control, the brain (Gary). The Southbound lanes are like the efferent (motor) system. These lanes take information from the brain to the body.
At the bottom of the brain, before it leaves the big hole in our heads (foramen magnum), there is the brain stem. The brain stem is the starting point for a number of cranial nerves. Why is this important? Because, cranial nerves can be the answer to some of the weird symptoms that folks can experience after a Whiplash injury.
The next part of the CNS is the spinal cord. The spinal cord starts at the bottom of the brain stem after the nervous system leaves the foramen magnum and stops in the upper lower back. The spinal cord is the way the brain and the body communicate. If there is something wrong with the spinal cord, it is like wreck that is blocking I-65, and information cannot get through.
The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)
Using our highway analogy, the peripheral nervous system is like the exits and entrances on I-65. Follow me for a moment. Say you touch a hot coal with your index finger. The nerve in your index finger will send a signal up your hand, into your arm, past your shoulder, into your neck, enter I-65 northbound at the spinal cord and travel up to the brain. Remember, northbound traffic is sensory.
So the reason why you can have such a wide range of symptoms after a whiplash is that there are a number of structures that can be injured. If a muscle is strained, the symptoms will clear up much sooner than if a ligament is strained or a nerve is damaged.
If you have any questions about a whiplash injury, call Guy DiMartino Law at (219) 690-8997.