The spinal column consists of 33 vertebrae that are stacked together; they can be divided into five sections: there are 4 coccygeal, 5 sacral, 5 lumbar, 12 thoracic, and 7 cervical vertebrae. These vertebrae provide stability for the torso. The bones of the spinal column also serve as protection for the spinal cord and the origins of smaller nerves that branch out from the spinal cord to various parts of the body.
The vertebrae are connected to one another by strong bands of tissue called ligaments; they are also connected to the surrounding muscles by tendons.
An injury called whiplash, which affects the 7 cervical vertebrae of the neck, is most commonly caused by car accidents when the force of a blow from the rear causes the head to whip backward and forward very swiftly.
This video animation shows how whiplash results from the rapid movement of the skull durinf a motor vehicle accident.
This action can cause tears in the muscles, tendons or ligaments of the neck. It can also cause a nerve to become pinched between two vertebrae, resulting in pain or numbness that may radiate down to the shoulder, arm and hand.
Depending on the severity of the injury, whiplash may be treated with a range of interventions, including immobilization with a neck brace, medication, exercises, and in extreme circumstances, surgery.