Many people suffer from whiplash injury after a car accident, and this injury can be both mild or severe. A severe whiplash injury, and failure to properly diagnose or treat it, can result in serious, long-term injuries and consequences such as disability and significant medical costs. Whiplash is often a slow onset, gradually referring pain multiple regions of the body. As it progresses, this seemingly small injury can go on to have long-term and sometime, permanent effects.
What is whiplash and when does it happen?
Whiplash is a soft tissue neck injury that is caused by a severe jerk to the head, which often occurs during rear-end car accidents. However it can also happen during many other incidents that involve a sudden movement of the head and neck.
The most common causes of whiplash are:
- Car and cycling accidents,
- Physical abuse,
- Contact sports such as football, boxing, or karate,
- Amusement park rides,
- Horseback riding,
- Falls where the head is violently jerked backwards, and
- Blows to the head with a heavy item.
Whiplash occurs when your head is jolted forward and then snaps back, or severely rotates to the side. The sudden movement can damage the soft tendons, ligaments, and muscles in your neck as a result of being stretched beyond their typical range of motion. Even the discs between your neck and bones can be torn from whiplash, causing extreme pain as well as other symptoms to some people.
A 1998 study on whiplash showed that injuries can be sustained at low speeds, even as slow as 8 km per hour. This usually depends on the direction of impact and the position of the injured individual inside the vehicle. The physical size of the passenger or driver can also affect how serious their whiplash injury is. According to research published in 2008, “A small female will experience two to four times the head linear acceleration as a large male in the same crash. The male, however, will experience greater rearward bending”.
The long-term effects of whiplash
The symptoms of whiplash can last for days, weeks, months, or even years, depending on how severe the injury is to the soft tissue in your neck or upper back. Whiplash injuries that last for months or years usually follow a more serious accident, where the pain would have been more severe with difficulty moving the head and neck. Full symptoms may only appear a few days after the impact, with an injury being felt 12 hours following the accident. This is why it’s always important to get yourself checked up immediately after an accident, as sometimes there will be a delay before effects show.
Whiplash that lasts for over 6 months is usually referred to as chronic whiplash, and is treated with prescribed painkillers, muscle relaxants, physiotherapy, as well as a specified time off work. Alternative treatments for whiplash include acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, and electronic nerve stimulation to reduce neck pain.
The symptoms of chronic whiplash may never disappear completely. These can include:
- Pain and stiffness in the neck or shoulders,
- Upper or lower back pain,
- Jaw pain,
- Severe headaches,
- Blurred vision,
- Constant weariness,
- Concentration and memory problems,
- Ringing in the ears,
- Difficulty sleeping,
- Travel anxiety, and
- Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs.
A severe whiplash injury can also lead to osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis in the long term, if there is a true injury to the spine such as a fracture.
A study on whiplash recovery time published in 2005 showed that 71% of people surveyed had some whiplash symptoms (such as chronic pain or headaches) for more than 7 years after they sustained their injury, and that whiplash took 2 years to stabilise. For some people it can take up to 5 years to recover from a whiplash injury.
Similarly, a 2001 Danish study found that whiplash victims who suffered more serious neck pain and stiffness straight after a car accident were more likely to remain disabled a year later, with no obvious physical cause for their lingering problems.
Making a compensation claim for whiplash injuries
If you wish to make a compensation claim for your whiplash injury, you should first visit your GP and have them make a record of the symptoms. Whiplash symptoms can be difficult to document medically by scans or x-rays, which can prevent you from obtaining fair compensation, and for that reason it’s highly recommended that you make a claim with a lawyer.