Car Accidents and Whiplash
Every year, approximately 3 million people in the United States sustain injury to their head and neck as a result of whiplash. For many, their pain will go away within a few days or weeks. Most people who experience whiplash recover within 3 months after the injury. However, about half of the 3 million people who suffer from whiplash will continue to suffer chronic pain long after they sustain their initial injury. Twenty percent of those (approximately 300,000 people) will experience long-term disability as a result of the chronic pain they suffer.
Whiplash is most commonly associated with rear-end collisions. In a rear-end car accident, a driver or passenger’s head snaps violently backward and forward from the initial impact. This sudden and forceful whipping motion strains the soft tissue in the neck and can injure the vertebrae, muscles, ligaments, and nerves in the neck. These injuries can occur even in a low-impact collision. In fact, most car-crash whiplash injuries occur at speeds below 12 miles per hour, but whiplash can occur upon impact at speeds as low as 5 miles per hour.
Whiplash Injury Statistics
If you have been involved in a car accident, or if you sustained any kind of impact to your head, neck, or back, you may have experienced whiplash, even if you did not notice symptoms right away. Whiplash injuries could take several hours or even days to manifest. No matter what kind of accident you experienced, if you suffer any of the whiplash symptoms described in this article, seek medical attention immediately. Whiplash is a serious condition that can have a long-term impact on your health and finances.
For example, here are some statistics relevant to whiplash injuries:
- Approximately 7% of victims in whiplash studies do not return to work.
- The average whiplash victim misses approximately 8 weeks of work as a result of their injuries.
- Women are 5 times more likely to suffer whiplash injuries than men.
- Whiplash injuries occur more often in people 30 to 50 years of age.
- People with pre-existing health conditions, such as arthritis, are more likely to suffer more severe injury and greater levels of pain resulting from whiplash.
- Women and children suffer more severe whiplash injuries because their necks are smaller.
Suffering chronic pain from whiplash can be expensive, especially if you are unable to return to work. But you may be able to be compensated for your injuries. Continue reading to learn more about whiplash, its symptoms, how to treat whiplash injuries, and why you may need an experienced whiplash attorney to help you receive compensation for your whiplash injuries.
What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), whiplash is characterized by multiple symptoms. The most common symptom is neck pain caused by sudden and forceful flexion to the soft tissue in the neck. Other symptoms may include:
- Neck stiffness
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Burning or “pins-and-needles” sensation
- Back or shoulder pain
- Limited range of motion
- Memory loss
- Concentration impairment
- Diminished coordination
- Inability to sleep
- Depression or other psychiatric condition
As you can see, there may be a variety of symptoms associated with whiplash. You may experience one or all of these symptoms. The degree to which you suffer these symptoms may depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The nature of the injury
- The severity of the impact
- Your age (younger victims typically recover faster than elderly victims)
- Your physical condition (victims with existing back pain or previous whiplash injury may take longer to heal)
Whiplash severity may be categorized within a standard classification scale ranging from “0” to “IV”.
- Grade 0: No physical signs of injury or pain.
- Grade I: Neck pain; stiffness or tenderness only. No physical signs.
- Grade II: Neck pain with musculoskeletal signs (decreased range of motion, location tenderness).
- Grade III: Neck pain with neurological signs (numbness, tingling in the arms).
- Grade IV: Neck pain with fracture or dislocation.
The classification of your whiplash injury will determine the degree and severity of your injury, the likely duration of your symptoms, the appropriate treatment, and your prognosis for recovery.
How Does Whiplash Occur?
Whiplash occurs when the neck is forcefully jolted in two, consecutive but opposite directions. The first movement creates hyperextension of a joint or surrounding soft tissue in the neck—usually in the upper part of your spine called the “cervical spine.” Your cervical spine supports the weight of your head and allows you to tilt your head up and down and rotate your head from side to side.
This initial impact, alone, may be sufficient to cause injury to the discs between your vertebrae or the muscles, ligaments, and nerves in your cervical spine. Even the slightest injury from this first whiplash motion may affect your ability to move your head in any direction. However, during whiplash, a second and immediate counter-motion in the opposite direction creates hyperflexion in the neck, which is a double impact on the cervical spine and surrounding soft tissue.
Rear-end car crashes are typical scenarios that cause whiplash to occur. Drivers and passengers in a car are positioned perfectly for the head and neck to experience the forceful snapping of the head and neck that naturally occurs upon a rear impact. However, the pain and injuries resulting from whiplash can occur any time the head and neck experience a sudden and forceful jolt in any direction. This can occur from a slip and fall, a physical assault, or as a result of the negligent actions of a third party.
If you have experienced any type of unexpected or sudden impact to your body that caused you (or causes you later) to suffer any type of neck pain, stiffness, or soreness, seek immediate medical attention and obtain a full evaluation of your head, neck, and cervical spine. If you have experienced whiplash, you may be facing chronic pain or long-term disability that can have a significant impact on you physically, emotionally, and financially. If your whiplash was caused by the negligence of a third party, the attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, can help you receive compensation for your injuries.
How Long Do Whiplash Symptoms Last?
How long you suffer from whiplash symptoms will depend on the nature and extend of your injuries and how quickly you receive appropriate treatment.
- Severe whiplash may take as long as 17 weeks to stabilize the neck.
- For 75% of whiplash victims, symptoms could last 6 months or longer.
- As many as 22% of whiplash patients will not return to their normal physical condition between 1 and 2 years after their injury.
- One out of 50 whiplash victims will suffer chronic pain sufficient to require diagnostic testing, medications, and other treatment on an ongoing basis, even 8 years after their accident.
- More than 50% of whiplash victims will continue to suffer chronic pain 20 years after their injury.
What Treatment Is Available for Whiplash?
According to NINDS, there are a variety of treatments that may be appropriate for whiplash injuries. Much depends on the nature and extent of the injury being treated and the condition and age of the patient. In general, appropriate treatment may include:
- Medication. Your physician may prescribe medication to address whatever symptoms or injuries you experience. These may include medications for:
- Tension relief
- Heat treatment for muscle relaxation
- A cervical collar to minimize mobility (for short periods of time)
- Physical therapy (including range of motion exercises)
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) (for pain relief and muscle strengthening)
- Cervical traction
- Cervical fusion
Depending on the severity of your injury, your physician may prescribe any of these available treatment regimens. The sooner you begin an appropriate treatment plan, the sooner you may alleviate pain and restore your range of motion so you can return to your normal daily activities.
Most people who suffer only mild whiplash may recover with just a short period of rest or minimal treatment. Higher grades of whiplash may require longer periods of non-surgical treatment. For those who experience severe whiplash or suffer persistent or long-term pain, surgery may be required. For example, if whiplash damages the spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae, the discs could impact or compress upon a nerve, causing pain, numbness, or weakness. This is typically referred to as a herniated disc, which may require surgery to repair. Cervical fusion surgery also may be necessary to reduce or eliminate the painful movement of damaged vertebrae.
What Should I do If I Sustained Whiplash in an Accident?
If you think you may have suffered a whiplash injury from a car accident, slip and fall, or other physical impact, you should seek immediate medical attention that includes a full diagnosis of your head and neck, including imaging of the cervical spine. This could include:
- X-rays. X-rays will depict bone fractures or other issues involving bone. They will not reveal damage to soft tissue, such as tendons, muscles, or ligaments.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scans. CT scans produce more detail than x-rays. CT scans can depict bones, muscles, fat, and organs and can reveal soft tissue damage that x-rays will not reveal.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs produce computer-generated 3D images of soft tissue structures and organs and provide greater detail of internal structures.
Your physician may want to obtain all three images of your head and neck to properly diagnose and treat your injuries.
You also should contact an experienced whiplash attorney as soon as possible. Because whiplash injuries account for more than 65% of all bodily injury claims, these detailed images and other medical records, including ongoing medical care and follow-up treatment, will be critical to your attorney in demonstrating the cause and extent of your injuries and helping you to obtain maximum compensation for your damages.
As soon as you are injured and obtain medical care, you should contact an attorney right away. Your attorney will be able to advise you on the relevance of your injuries and the amount of compensation you might receive if your injuries were caused by the actions of a third party.