Whiplash is a painful neck injury that most often occurs as the result of rear-end vehicle crashes. The forceful rear impact causes the neck to move quickly back and forth, similar to a whip cracking. It is the rapid flexion and extension of the neck. It affects the neck muscles and ligaments which are extended beyond their normal range of motion. The intervertebral joints and discs can also be affected.
The injury from the sudden bending and extending of the neck is sometimes referred to as a neck strain or sprain. Soft tissue damage can result along with injuries to ligaments, discs, nerve roots, cervical muscles and inter vertebral joints. If you’ve suffered a whiplash injury as the result of a vehicle accident, it’s important to understand the symptoms, treatments and process for recovery.
Symptoms of Whiplash
If you have been involved in an automobile accident, there is almost a 30 percent chance that you have experienced whiplash on either a minor or major scale. Why is this? Because almost 30 percent of automobile accidents are rear-end collisions, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA). It is difficult to escape from a rear-end collision without experiencing whiplash in some capacity, as it is one of the most common injuries in this type of accident.
Immediately after a vehicle accident, you may not recognize or feel symptoms from a whiplash injury. If you do not receive treatment at the scene and begin experiencing symptoms later, you should see your doctor or visit an emergency room or urgent care center as soon as you can.
Symptoms of whiplash usually develop within about a day of the injury and can include:
- Headaches, typically beginning at the bottom of the skull.
- Neck pain, stiffness and loss of your usual range of motion.
- Worse pain when moving the neck.
- Pain or tenderness in arms, upper back and shoulders.
- Numbness or tingling in the arms.
- Dizziness and fatigue.
Less common symptoms include:
- Blurry vision.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Problems with memory.
Symptoms like neck pain may be noticeable right after you’re injured in an accident, but you also can experience a delay of several days before experiencing symptoms.
Pain from whiplash can be significant, including tightness in the neck and pain when moving the head backward and forward or from one side to the other. A forceful impact that causes whiplash also can cause a concussion, so it’s important to see a doctor immediately if you experience any symptoms.
To diagnose whiplash, your doctor will thoroughly examine you and may order X-rays and other imaging tests. Your doctor likely will ask you to perform some tasks such as touching and moving your arms, neck and head to gauge your range of motion, your reflexes and strength, and the extent of pain you’re experiencing.
Although we just gave you a list of common signs and symptoms, we discourage you from attempting to diagnose yourself. If you are like most people, you have been scouring the Internet to determine what you should do next. Once you diagnose yourself, you may attempt to treat yourself as well, without ever speaking to a medical professional.
Whiplash Treatment and Prognosis
Most people who have suffered a whiplash injury in a vehicle accident recover within several months, but some individuals experience ongoing complications, including neck pain.
Treatment following a whiplash injury may include drugs such as muscle relaxers, painkillers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antidepressants. In addition, some victims must wear a cervical collar for several weeks. Heat also may be used to help relieve tension in the muscles.
In some cases, icing the tender areas helps to relieve swelling and pain, and other therapies like massage and ultrasound may provide some relief as well. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for treating your specific symptoms.
Although most whiplash sufferers recover within a few months, the effects can be long-lasting and profound for those who do not. For some people, the pain can last for months or even years after a vehicle accident. Predicting a long-term outcome is difficult, but it may be more likely that you’ll suffer from chronic pain if your initial symptoms included severe pain or pain that began quickly, headaches and pain radiating into your arms.
Whiplash Recovery Period
Your recovery period will depend on the severity of your injuries. After your acute symptoms have resolved, your doctor may recommend that you begin rehabilitation to strengthen your neck muscles and improve flexibility.
Rehabilitation can help you recover and lower the chances that you’ll injure your neck again. Don’t begin a rehabilitation or exercise program without advice from your doctor. It’s important not to rush your recovery, and you need to allow time for thorough healing before participating in sports and other strenuous activities.
In general, you should not attempt to return to your previous activity level until:
- You can move your head forward and back without any stiffness or pain.
- You can move your head from one side to the other without stiffness or pain.
- You can look over each shoulder without experiencing pain or stiffness.
Jurors oftentimes see whiplash injuries as minor and insignificant, and they are not easily persuaded that they merit significant compensation. In fact, it can be very difficult to prove that a whiplash injury even exists. Insurance companies know this and will fight these injuries with a vengeance. You need a compassionate and aggressive advocate to fight for you against the odds.
These injuries often cannot be seen, which is why it is much harder to prove their existence. Imaging, such as MRIs, CTs, or x-rays, often reveal “normal” conditions within the affected area. Therefore, a victim often has to rely on much more subjective proof, such as his or her complaints of pain. However, a treating physician may be able to diagnose injuries that don’t show up in medical imaging, which is why it’s critical that you seek medical attention no matter what.
An experienced personal injury attorney will work diligently to uncover any and all existing evidence that could be used to prove that your whiplash injuries are real and serious injuries. Once all evidence has been gathered, it again takes a lawyer to present the evidence in a way that clearly explains how the injury was sustained and emphasizes how painful these injuries can be. No matter what anyone thinks, these are NOT minor or insignificant injuries and they should NOT be treated as such.
Get Fair Compensation for Your Injuries
If you’ve experienced a whiplash injury in a vehicle accident, you may be entitled to compensation including your medical bills, lost time from work, and pain and suffering. To ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation to which you’re entitled for your injuries, work with an experienced personal injury attorney. Contact DuBoff & Associates, Chartered, for a free consultation.