After suffering a car accident or whiplash injury you may not feel the symptoms right away. High Impact forces during the whiplash injury can damage the disc as well as the spine. The impact causes compressive forces in the disc. The natural reflex muscle action or strength of the muscle can prevent the neck from bending, and greatly increasing the compressive forces to the on the disc. due to its added strength of contraction which comes in line along with the forward bending of neck at the time of impact during an accident. Hence the forward bending injuries damage the disc primarily while it can also cause wide variety of damage to ligaments and bones. The high impact forces that occur during car accidents, can lead to widespread damage to the spine. While bending neck forwards stretches the ligaments (intervertebral ligaments) at the back and unloads apophyseal joints. This also cause more impact on the disc in the front.
Bending backwards damages the spinal joints at the back of spine that are called apophyseal joints. Accidents that cause side bending can cause the disc to bulge sideways, and that can cause nerve symptoms like tingling, pins and needles.
The high compressive forward bending forces during a high impact collision, displaces the fluid content in the disc. Effectively the disc behaves like a flat tire. This disc prolapse also causes fissures in the disc, and that causes the escape of contents of the disc. Once out of disc, the fragments of nucleous pulposes (viscous component in the disc) in the disc absorb tissue fluid (osmosis) and swell 2-3 times their size in few hours. The fragments of disc material escaped out will also exhibit inflammatory response that may influence surrounding tissues.
Symptoms associated with disc prolapse may not occur with full severity at the time of initial injury but, can become more severe over a period of days, hiding the true mechanical nature of the underlying problem. It can occur over days, weeks, or months depending on the severity of impact. Its not just sprain, strain, muscle pull, or soft tissue injury. The multiple small joints around the spine just need a reasonable amount of force to get affected unlike a large joint like knee or hip or elbow joint. Research says a 10 km/hr accident can cause whiplash, and 90% of people involved in 30km/hr accident developed symptoms.
A high impact force, that causes dislocation or fracture, can trigger buckling of the neck spine in an unpredictable way. Severe forces during an accident damages the spinal bone, even before it damages the disc which mostly come under Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD).
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