What is whiplash?

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries resulting from a car accident. It can be defined as a neck sprain and strain caused by sudden deceleration and acceleration, which is typical of car accidents. Thousands of people suffer from whiplash in the USA every year. Many of them recover well after some time. But there is a huge percentage of patients with long-lasting symptoms caused by whiplash. (1)

A licensed attorney for personal injuries practicing in Virginia will be experienced in car accident cases and can help you get the medical treatment you need quickly.

Settlements vary depending on the severity of your damages, but even if an injury doesn’t appear to be very serious immediately following the accident, it might cost you years of stress and pain if you don’t act quickly.

You need a personal injury attorney that has experience with brain injury or whiplash caused by auto and truck accidents can assist you through the process of getting the compensation and care you deserve.

The exact cause of whiplash symptoms is still not fully understood. Scientists have conducted many studies trying to find the exact cause of the pain and symptoms following a whiplash injury. Possible causes of pain include stretching and micro ruptures of neck muscles, stretching of joint capsules of the neck joints, injuries to the ligaments and discs in the cervical spine, injuries of nerve roots in the neck, or injury of small blood vessels. Likely, it is a combination of injuries to different parts of the neck that causes the symptoms. (2)

Whiplash occurs after a sudden and forceful movement of the head and neck. This causes energy transfer and movement of the head and neck, causing extension of the cervical spine over the normal limit. Once the head reaches a maximal backward point, it will move forwards, causing the neck to flex. This type of movement repeats until the body and head stop moving. This sudden and forceful flexion and extension of the cervical spine can cause damage and symptoms. This type of injury is usually caused by car accidents (especially rear-end accidents). However, it can also occur in contact sports, falls from a height, blunt head trauma, and physical abuse. (2)

65% of patients that had a car accident will have whiplash symptoms in the first 6 hours after the injury. 93% will have symptoms within the first 24 hours, and 100% will have symptoms within the first three days. (3)

The most common symptoms of whiplash include neck pain and a feeling of stiffness. The pain usually increases in the first few days after the injury. Pain also usually increases with movement of the neck. In the case of injury to the cervical spine roots, neck pain can radiate to the back of the head, shoulders, between shoulder blades, down the spine, and into the arms and hands. This type of symptom is frequently accompanied by numbness and tingling in the same areas. Other common symptoms of whiplash include headaches, problems with vision (blurred vision), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), feeling dizzy, problems with sleeping, and feeling tired. (4)

Even mild cases can turn severe in a matter of hours, unfortunately leading to situations where hiring a wrongful death lawyer — rather than a lawyer for brain injuries or personal injuries — becomes necessary.

If you have been in a car accident and have neck pain after the accident, you should visit the ER and get an examination. During the examination, you can expect the doctor to ask you questions about the car accident. Some of the questions might include the type of accident (car accident, bicycle, motorcycle), whether you were the driver or a passenger, did you have your seatbelt on, did you suffer a hit from the backside or was it a frontal collision. They will also ask about what symptoms do you have, when did the symptoms start, is the pain getting worse or better, etc. After that, you can expect a physical examination. The doctor will examine the neck for deformities and signs of injury. They can palpate the neck muscles and determine which neck muscle has spasms. After that, you will need to move the cervical spine in order to determine the range of motion. You can expect some pain during the examination, and you will need to report the pain and other symptoms that occur during the examination. Your doctor will have to determine whether there is nerve injury caused by a car accident. They will check for muscle strength and sensitivity.

In most cases, the history and physical examination are enough for the doctor to diagnose the patient with whiplash. There is often no need for further diagnostic methods at the first examination. There are some exceptions, however. If the patient is older than 65, if the patient complains of numbness and tingling in arms or hands, if the accident was a high energy trauma, if there is a history of neck diseases or previous surgery, inability to rotate the neck, cervical spine X-rays will be ordered. X-rays can show fractures of the cervical spine as well as dislocation of the vertebrae. Other diagnostic methods include CT scans which can show bone injuries in more detail, as well as spinal disc injuries. An MRI can be used to detect spinal cord and nerve root injuries. If there is persistent numbness or tingling in the extremities, the doctor can order an EMNG study that will show possible nerve injuries. (5)

Once the whiplash is diagnosed, the doctor will give you recommendations and therapy for faster recovery. These are on the basis of numerous studies in order to determine the best course of action. However, there are no universal guidelines for the treatment of whiplash that will lead to the best recovery. Some doctors will recommend the use of a soft collar. It can be used to reduce the initial pain, but there is a risk of increased muscle stiffness and pain after removal. The length of collar use is also variable. It can be worn from several days to a few weeks. Again, the recommendations vary from one doctor to another. Some will not recommend the use of a soft collar at all. Instead, they will recommend starting with neck stretching exercises. This may cause increased pain initially, but the range of motion will recover faster.

Pain killers are frequently used after whiplash. NSAIDs are enough in most cases. Muscle relaxants can also be used to reduce muscle stiffness. Topical gels that contain NSAIDs can also be used. A lot of patients will recover within a few weeks. Some of them will need prolonged physical therapy treatment. Generally speaking, treatment of whiplash injury is exclusively nonoperative. (5)

In conclusion, whiplash is a very common injury after car accidents. The severity of symptoms varies between very mild to serious symptoms that last for a long period of time. That is why it is very important to seek medical attention after car accidents.

Not only is seeking medical attention vital for your own health and treatment, but also for providing evidence and documentation for your auto accident lawyer.

Just as you shouldn’t delay in seeking medical help, you shouldn’t wait to contact an auto accident law firm about your case. Doing so may mean the difference between getting your life back on track after a personal injury or trying to deal with mounting medical bills, missed work, and no financial compensation after your accident.

A attorney for personal injury can advise you on your rights within the Commonwealth of Virginia and help you get the compensation you deserve.

  1. Styrke J, Sojka P, Björnstig U, Stålnacke BM. Symptoms, disabilities, and life satisfaction five years after whiplash injuries. Scand J Pain 2014; 5:229-36
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15170609/
  3. Deans G, Magalliard J, Kerr M, Rutherford W. Neck sprain—a major cause of disability following car accidents. Injury 1987; 18:10-2.
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/whiplash/symptoms-causes/syc-20378921
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/whiplash#diagnosis