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Whiplash: What is it? How Does it Happen?

Whiplash

One of the most common injuries sustained in an auto accident is whiplash. Chances are that you have heard the word and you know that it is associated with the neck area, but what is exactly going on with this type of injury? Read On.

What is Whiplash?
Whiplash, which is not a medical term, describes an injury when someone is involved in an accident where there is a sudden distortion of the neck. In medical jargon this is known as a cervical sprain or more specific to auto accidents, cervical acceleration-deceleration injury. What is actually happening within the neck area is muscles, ligaments and tendons are overstretching due to the force of impact.  The tendons, ligaments, muscles, nerve roots, etc. are known as soft tissue, hence the phrase “soft tissue injury.”

Does it Heal Fast?
It depends. Every whiplash injury is different. The severity of the accident needs to be taken into account along with many other factors. Some people involved in accidents will still be feeling the effects of the whiplash two years after the accident. Some will feel better in a matter of weeks. No two whiplash injuries are exactly alike.

If I get rear-ended, what is going on in the moments that I am hit? 
The following provides an example of the occupant and seat interaction sequence for a collision lasting approximately 300 milliseconds: (From Wikipedia’s Page on Whiplash)

0 Milliseconds
• Rear car structure is impacted and begins to move forward and/or crushes
• Occupant remains stationary
• No occupant forces

100 Milliseconds
• Vehicle seat accelerates and pushes into occupant’s torso (i.e. central portion of the body in contact with seat)
• The torso loads the seat and is accelerated forward (seat will deflect rearward)
• Head remains stationary due to inertia

150 Milliseconds
• Torso is accelerated by the vehicle seat and may start to ramp up the seat
• Lower neck is pulled forward by the accelerated torso/seat
• The head rotates and extends rapidly rearward hyper-extending the neck

175 Milliseconds
• Head is still moving backwards
• Vehicle seat begins to spring forward
• The torso continues to be accelerated forward
• The head rotation rearward is increased and is fully extended.

300 Milliseconds
• Head and torso are accelerated forward
• Neck is “whipped” forward rotating and hyper-flexing the neck forward
• The head accelerates due to neck motion and moves ahead of the seat back

If I am rear ended and feel pain should I go see a doctor?
Yes, a thousand times yes. After an accident, if you are experiencing any kind of discomfort or pain in your neck, or any other part of your body for that matter, see a doctor. Do not fabricate a story of pain or exaggerate the severity of the pain to the doctor, but if you feel that you may need to see a doctor, go.

* Photo courtesy of Caitlinator via Flickr Creative Commons    

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