Whiplash | Head Injury | Spinal Cord Injury and Pain


Whiplash, also called neck sprain or neck strain, is injury to the neck. Whiplash symptoms occur following damage to the neck. In whiplash, the intervertebral joints (located between vertebrae), discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots may become damaged.

The most frequent cause of whiplash is a car accident. Surprisingly, the speed of the cars involved in the accident or the amount of physical damage to the car may not relate to the intensity of neck injury. Speeds as low as 15 miles per hour can produce enough energy to cause whiplash in a passenger in your car, whether or not they are wearing a seat belt.

These signs and symptoms may occur immediately or minutes to hours after the initial injury. The sooner after the injury that symptoms develop, the greater the chance of serious damage.

  • Neck pain
  • Neck swelling
  • Tenderness along the back of your neck
  • Muscle spasms (in the side or back of your neck)
  • Difficulty moving your neck around
  • Headache
  • Pain shooting from your neck into either shoulder or arm

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Head Injury

Head injury is a general term used to describe any trauma to the head, and most specifically to the brain itself.

Skull fracture: A skull fracture is a break in the bone surrounding the brain and other structures within the skull.

Linear skull fracture: A common injury, especially in children. A linear skull fractures is a simple break in the skull that follows a relatively straight line. It can occur after seemingly minor head injuries (falls, blows such as being struck by a rock, stick, or other object; or from motor vehicle accidents). A linear skull fracture is not a serious injury unless there is an additional injury to the brain itself.

Depressed skull fractures: These are common after forceful impact by blunt objects-most commonly, hammers, rocks, or other heavy but fairly small objects. These injuries cause "dents" in the skull bone. If the depth of a depressed fracture is at least equal to the thickness of the surrounding skull bone (about 1/4-1/2 inch), surgery is often required to elevate the bony pieces and to inspect the brain for evidence of injury. Minimally depressed fractures are less than the thickness of the bone. Other fractures are not depressed at all. They usually do not require surgical treatment unless other injuries are noted.

Basilar skull fracture: A fracture of the bones that form the base (floor) of the skull and results from severe blunt head trauma of significant force. A basilar skull fracture commonly connects to the sinus cavities. This connection may allow fluid or air entry into the inside of the skull and may cause infection. Surgery is usually not necessary unless other injuries are also involved.

Intracranial (inside the skull) hemorrhage (bleeding)

Subdural hematoma: Bleeding between the brain tissue and the dura mater (a tough fibrous layer of tissue between the brain and skull) is called a subdural hematoma. The stretching and tearing of "bridging veins" between the brain and dura mater causes this type of bleeding. A subdural hematoma may be acute, developing suddenly after the injury, or chronic, slowly accumulating after injury. Chronic subdural hematoma is more common in the elderly whose bridging veins are often brittle and stretched and can more easily begin to slowly bleed after minor injuries. They are potentially serious and often require surgery.

Epidural hematoma: Bleeding between the dura mater and the skull bone is an epidural hematoma. These occur when arteries are cut. Injury in the temple area is a common cause. Epidural hematoma is potentially serious and often requires surgery.

Intraparenchymal hemorrhage/cerebral contusion: These terms describe bleeding into the brain tissue itself. A contusion is like a bruise to the brain tissue and usually requires no special intervention, much like a concussion. Most doctors admit people with cerebral (brain) contusion into the hospital for observation for rare complications such as brain swelling. An intraparenchymal hemorrhage is a pool of blood within the brain tissue. Minor bleeding may stop without any treatment and cause no serious problems. More serious or large bleeds usually require surgery.

Closed head injuries: This broad term describes any injury to the brain or structures within the skull that are not caused by a penetrating injury (such as a gunshot wound or stab wound). They range from very minor to potentially fatal injuries.

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Spinal Cord Injury and Pain

The spinal cord is the major bundle of nerves carrying nerve impulses to and from the brain to the rest of the body. Rings of bone, called vertebrae, surround the spinal cord. These bones constitute the spinal column or back bones.

Spinal cord injury is damage to the spinal cord as a result of a direct trauma to the spinal cord itself or as a result of indirect damage to the bones and soft tissues and vessels surrounding the spinal cord.

Spinal cord damage results in a loss of function, such as mobility or feeling. In most people who have spinal cord injury, the spinal cord is intact. Spinal cord injury is not the same as back injury, which may result from pinched nerves or ruptured disks. Even when a person sustains a break in a vertebra or vertebrae, there may not be any spinal cord injury if the spinal cord itself is not affected.

Causes of Spinal Cord Injury: Spinal cord injuries may result from falls, diseases like polio or spina bifida (a disorder involving incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings), motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, industrial accidents, and assaults, among other causes. If the spine is weak because of another condition, such as arthritis, minor injuries can cause spinal cord trauma.

Types of Spinal Cord Injury: There are two kinds of spinal cord injury -- complete and incomplete. In a complete injury, a person loses all ability to feel and voluntarily move below the level of the injury. In an incomplete injury, there is some functioning below the level of the injury.

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