Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash Injuries are a common injury that can result from car crashes.  If you have been in a car accident, you may experience feelings of pain and stiffness in your neck immediately after, or even beginning a few days after the accident.  You may have experienced a whiplash type injury.

How Whiplash Injuries Occur

In order to understand how a whiplash injury occurs, you need to understand the structure of your body.  The main support structure of your body is your spine, which consists of interlocking bones called vertebrae.  Each vertebra is separated by a tough sack of jelly, called a disc.

Spinal segment showing vertebra and discWhen you are in a car accident, particularly when you are rear-ended, the human body snaps forward and backward.  The following video clip from SpineUniverse shows how this whipping/snapping motion strains the spine.

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In minor cases, the quick jerk to the neck will only result is some muscle damage, which can heal.  In more severe cases, the whiplash motion can strain and sometimes even rupture the squishy discs that separate the vertebrae.  When the disc gets damaged, the injured person may experience extreme pain, numbness, tingling, and other unpleasant sensations in the neck.

The Spinal Cord is the main cluster of nerves in the human body.  It runs along the spine.  If a bone or a disc gets pushed out of place, it can press on the nerves in the spinal cord, causing extreme pain.  Below is an illustration of some types of problems a person can experience in their spine.

spine conditions

As you can see, if the disc ruptures, it can bulge outwards, pressing painfully on the spinal cord.  One of the dangers of whiplash injuries is that if the injury tears a disc, it can get worse over time as more squishy disc material gets pushed out of the disc, pressing harder and harder on the spinal cord.

The vertebrae that make up your spine each have a special name.  The top seven are called “cervical” vertebrae and are numbered C1-C7.  The next twelve are called “thoracic” and are numbered T1-T12.  The next five, which make up your lower back, are called “lumbar” vertebrae and are numbered L1-L5.  Depending on where your injury is, you may feel symptoms in different parts of your body.


The spinal cord is the nerve center of the body.  Nerves run out from the spinal cord to your arms, legs, and other parts of your body. When you have something pressing on your spinal cord (like a bulging disc), you may experience pain, numbness, weakness, or other unpleasant sensations in other parts for your body.  For example, if you have an injury in your neck, you may feel it in the tips of your fingers.  If you have an injury in your low back, you may feel it in yours legs or feet.

The following diagram gives a general idea of where you may experience symptoms depending on which disc is injured.

dermatome cahrt

What to Do if You Think You May Have Suffered a Whiplash Injury

If you think that you may have a whiplash injury, it is important to consult your doctor right away.  In addition, if you suffered whiplash as a result of a car crash, you should consult a personal injury attorney.  Often times insurance companies will attempt to contact you within a day or two after a car crash and settle your claim for a small amount of money.  This can be dangerous if you have a serious spinal injury.  Contacting a good personal injury attorney can help you protect your rights and ensure that you receive full and fair compensation for any injuries you suffered.

This article was written by Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer Noah Schwinghamer.  This article should not be considered medical or legal advice.  Contact a doctor or attorney for advice pertaining to your individual case.

About the author

NFS Esq. Noah Schwinghamer is a personal injury lawyer in Sacramento, CA.

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