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Whiplash: A Painful Example of Physics in Action

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

This colloquialism describes physicist Issac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: When two bodies interact by exerting force on each other, these forces (termed the action and the reaction) are equal in magnitude, but opposite in direction.

For must of us, we don’t realize how much this law impacts our lives. However, those who experience whiplash have first-hand knowledge of Newton’s Thirds Law. That experience is painfully learned through the neck injury known as “Whiplash.”

To understand this injury, we must first look to the human structures at issue. The spinal column consists of 33 vertebrae stacked together. The vertebrae are connected with tissue called ligaments and to the surrounding muscles by tendons. These bones provide stability for the body and protection for the spinal cord as well as the nerves connected to the cord.

The upper 7 vertebrae, the cervical vertebrae, connect the head to the spinal column. These vertebrae that are most affected when we discuss Whiplash. Whiplash is most commonly associated with automobile accidents. In accidents from rear end collisions, the force of the blow from the rear causes the head to “whip” backward and forward swiftly.

How Whiplash Occurs

A timeline of the action in a rear-collision:

When the impact first occurs, the occupant remains stationary, but the car begins moving forward.

Within the first 100 milliseconds, the vehicle seat accelerates forward, pushing the occupant’s torso with it. The rigidity of a persons body presses against the extended seat, deflecting it rearwards, and loading it to spring back.

150 milliseconds from the collision, the torso is accelerated by the seat and may start to ramp up the sear while the lower neck is pulled forward by the accelerated torso. The neck then rotates and extends rearwards, hyper-extending the neck.

In the next 25 milliseconds, the head continues moving backwards. The vehicle seat begins to spring forward and the torso goes with it. The head rotation rearward is increased and extended.

In the final 125 seconds after impact, the head and torso accelerate forward. The neck whips forward, rotating and hyper-flexing the neck. Finally the head accelerates due to neck’s motion and moved ahead of the seat back.

This action can cause tearing of the muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Nerves leading from the spinal column may also be pinched between two vertebrae. This pinch may result in pain or numbness that radiates down through the shoulders, arms or hands.

Neck pain and muscle stiffness are symptoms that are commonly associated with whiplash. Depending on the severity, a number of other symptoms may also  present themselves. These include: tenderness along the back of the neck and shoulders, swelling around the neck, muscle spasms around the neck and upper back, difficulty in moving one’s head, headaches, difficulties concentrating, problems sleeping or fatigue, jaw tightness, difficulty chewing or other issues with nerve irritation, such as tinnitus.

A variety of people don’t realize that they have whiplash, immediately after an accident. It may take hours or days to present itself. That’s why persons in an accident should seek medical attention to diagnose these injuries as soon as possible. To receive the best medical attention, it’s important to hire someone experienced in diagnosing and treating neck and back injuries.

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Dolman Law Group is a Clearwater personal injury law firm that routinely handles whiplash claims as well as other serious physical injury claims including traumatic brain injury. For more information on how the injury law attorneys at Dolman Law Group can assist you, call us today at: (727) 451-6900.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33756
727-451-6900