Because of its reputation as a minor injury, some people have a tendency to be dismissive of the serious effects of whiplash. It’s not uncommon for patients to try to ignore the pain and “push through,” thinking the symptoms they are experiencing shouldn’t impact their daily routine. But the neck injury known as whiplash has been known to cause complications that can persist for months or even years. As with any injury, every case is unique. And this is especially true for a condition prominent medical institutions across the country refer to as “poorly understood” and “not well understood.”
While the prognosis for whiplash is generally good, there are some cases in which patients suffer lasting pain and damage. Let’s look more closely at the nature, causes, and symptoms of whiplash, along with its potential long-term effects.
How Do You Know You Have Whiplash?
Those who suffer a whiplash injury generally notice symptoms within a few days of the injury. The Mayo Clinic describes whiplash as a quick, forceful back and forth motion of the neck. The sudden extension and flexion can cause damage to neck muscles, joints, discs, ligaments, and nerves. The motion’s similarity to the cracking of a whip gives rise to its name. An Injury associated with this type of neck strain is often referred to in the medical field as a whiplash-associated disorder (WAD). If you experience any type of accident that causes your head to snap back and forward, you should be on the lookout for signs of whiplash over the upcoming days.
Whiplash is frequently suffered by car accident victims, and is in fact one of the most common back and neck injuries caused by rear-end collisions. But motor vehicle crashes are not the only cause of whiplash. This type of neck injury can be the result of heavy equipment accidents, falls, sports and recreation injuries, construction accidents, physical abuse, or even an on-the-job slip and fall accident.
In most cases, whiplash will heal in a matter of weeks. As a soft-tissue injury, whiplash does not usually require aggressive medical intervention, outside of proper care as advised by a physician. Following a regimen of rest, ice and heat therapy, doctor-approved physical exercises, and pain medication, muscle relaxants, or anti-inflammatory drugs (when needed) will speed the healing process and typically ensure a full recovery. In more severe cases, a doctor may advise that a cervical collar be worn to support the neck during healing, although emerging research indicates that movement is a necessary aspect of recovery.
The symptoms of a whiplash injury include:
- Neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Soreness at the base of the skull
- Limited range of motion in the neck
- Worsening of pain with movement
- Shoulder, upper back, and arm pain
Because whiplash can damage the spine and nerves, some patients may experience neurological symptoms after an injury. After sustaining a whiplash injury, be sure to receive a thorough medical examination to rule out more serious neurological damage. When it comes to head and neck injuries, it’s extremely important to be in close communication with your doctor about any changing or worsening symptoms. Some whiplash sufferers may experience:
- Numbness or tingling in the arms
- Confusion, distraction, or difficulty concentrating
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty sleeping
- Memory problems
- Mood or behavioral changes
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
A full recovery depends on proper care and treatment. In a get-over-it culture like ours, too many injured individuals force themselves to return to work before the body has had time to recover from a back or neck injury. It’s harmful cultural attitudes like these that often lead injured victims to struggle to return to normal as quickly as possible, not allowing themselves the time they need to completely heal. When a patient attempts to rush through the treatment period, they are at higher risk of suffering lasting pain and damage.
Potential Long-Term Effects of Whiplash
Can you have permanent damage from whiplash? What may be regarded as a non-serious condition can actually result in several months or years of complications when not tended properly. NIH research has found that while the majority of whiplash injuries heal within three months, residual pain can continue much longer. Many people who endure long-lasting symptoms report chronic headaches, ongoing neck pain, a continued inability to comfortably move their head and neck, and persistent cognitive issues. It’s believed that the more severe the initial onset of symptoms, the more likely it is that complications can develop down the road.
There are several risk factors that have been associated with longer recovery periods following whiplash. Risk factors for prolonged problems after whiplash include:
- Older age
- Previous neck or back problems
- Having had whiplash in the past
- Extreme physical trauma at the time of injury
- Injuries sustained at high speeds
- Not receiving proper medical care after injury
- Inattention to one’s own healing and treatment
- A reinjury during the recovery process
It’s possible that a patient can suffer prolonged whiplash-associated pain—even after adhering to the treatment plan recommended by their doctor. If this is the case, the patient may need to seek additional medical care and receive ongoing treatments. For many people, this has an enormous effect on their day-to-day lives, as they are often required to miss work, undergo long-term physical therapy, and may even be affected by cognitive impairments like memory loss or confusion.
The lasting effects of whiplash have no small impact on a person’s ability to function as normal. If you are experiencing prolonged whiplash-associated issues after an accident caused by another party, it may be best to consider legal action. Filing a claim may allow you to obtain compensation for the medical expenses and lost ages incurred over the course of your whiplash treatment.
What Legal Help Is Available to Whiplash Injury Victims?
If you or someone you know is suffering from the prolonged effects of a whiplash injury that doesn’t seem to be healing as quickly as you believed it would, you’re not alone. As personal injury attorneys at Schweickert Ganassin Krzak Rundio, LLP, we know the devastating impact that a severe, long-term whiplash injury can have on an accident victim and their family. And we know that not every human body follows the same timeline for recovery. We advocate for whiplash injury victims who were hurt in preventable accidents such as car accidents, slip and fall accidents, and workplace accidents.
When we work with our clients who have suffered personal injury, we take an individual approach. We listen to your story, and we provide you with an honest legal opinion back by years of experience. We are always open from the beginning about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and what compensation may or may not be available to you. If you suffered a whiplash injury in an accident caused by another party’s negligence, we invite you to schedule a meeting with a member of our legal team to discuss how we may be able to help.