A whiplash injury can occur when your head suddenly moves backward and then forward again. It most commonly happens when your car is rear-ended, but it can also happen in other situations, as discussed below.
Whiplash is a type of soft-tissue injury in the neck. They can be minor, and the pain can be over within a few days or weeks without the need for any medical treatment. However, whiplash injuries can also be severe and cause chronic pain that can last years.
As noted above, whiplash is a common injury in vehicle accidents. Whiplash can also occur under other circumstances, as in the following examples.
Theme park and carnival rides are often designed to start, stop, and change direction quickly. For most people, this may not be a problem. But these rapid movements can cause some people to experience whiplash symptoms. If a ride is negligently maintained or operated, the risk of injury is higher.
A person who is hit, punched, or shaken may experience whiplash symptoms afterward. Babies are especially vulnerable to whiplash injuries, and whiplash can be a sign of “shaken baby syndrome.”
Any sport that involves contact and collisions can cause a whiplash injury. Obviously, a sport like boxing, in which you’re literally punched in the head, can cause whiplash. Tackle football, or even colliding with your tennis partner, can also cause whiplash.
Whiplash symptoms may be apparent immediately after an accident, or they can take 24 hours or longer to appear. Common symptoms include:
Less common symptoms include:
(Of course, it’s not surprising that a person with these symptoms might be a bit cranky!)
Some of these symptoms can indicate the presence of a more serious injury–not that whiplash can’t be serious. Thus, you shouldn’t assume it’s “just whiplash” and fail to consult your doctor after an accident on the assumption that you don’t need medical care.
Seeing your doctor isn’t just a good idea as far as your health is concerned. It can also provide the evidence of your injury needed for you to get the compensation you deserve.
Women seem to be more vulnerable to whiplash than men are, perhaps because women are less likely than men to develop their neck muscles. Children, and people who are weak or frail, are also more vulnerable.
As noted above, it’s a VERY good idea to see your doctor if you have whiplash or any other symptoms after an accident. It’s even more important to see a doctor if you have symptoms like:
Your doctor will examine you and check things like how far you’re able to move your neck in various directions. Your doctor should also check if parts of your neck are painful or tender to touch. If your doctor suspects you had a brain injury, such as a concussion, he or she may also perform a neurological examination.
Be prepared to discuss with your doctor when and how the pain started. Keep track of your symptoms as you notice them, and mention them during your medical appointment so that all of your symptoms will be listed in your medical records.
Your goal after your whiplash injury is not only to get better as soon as possible but to assure that your injury is fully and accurately documented so that you can recover any compensation to which you might be entitled.
This is not the time to be “brave” and tell your doctor “it’s not so bad” when you really are feeling pain or experiencing other symptoms. Also, if you don’t share all your symptoms with your doctor and accurately describe your level of pain, your doctor may not realize that you have a more serious injury.
Delaying treatment for a more serious injury could cause you to suffer unnecessarily or could lead to a longer-term disability.
If you’ve been injured in an accident, you may go straight to the emergency room rather than to your regular doctor–especially if it’s after hours or on a weekend. Since the doctor who sees you in the ER won’t be familiar with your medical history, be sure to share information about things like:
A doctor may order tests in order to detect or rule out more serious injuries.
For example, a doctor may order:
If a new symptom appears after your initial examination, or if the pain doesn’t go away after a few weeks, schedule a follow-up visit with your doctor.
Mild whiplash injuries are usually treated with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, Tylenol, or aspirin. Other treatments are discussed below.
If over-the-counter medications aren’t sufficient to stop the pain, your doctor may prescribe a stronger prescription painkiller.
Muscle relaxants can ease muscle spasms but can also cause drowsiness. Be sure to ask about any side effects of any drugs you’re prescribed and whether it’s safe to drive when using them. Also, make sure to disclose any prescription medications or supplements that you’re taking, in case of dangerous drug interactions.
An injection of lidocaine (Xylocaine) may also be needed to relieve spasms and pain.
Therapies for whiplash include:
Although the image of the accident victim in a foam collar is something of comedy cliché, cervical collars are no longer routinely recommended for whiplash injuries. According to the Mayo Clinic, a cervical collar should be worn for no longer than three hours at a time (or while sleeping) and only for the first few days after an accident. Long-term use of a cervical collar can cause loss of muscle and actually delay recovery.
Some people with whiplash injury pain that doesn’t respond to conventional medical treatment may wish to explore alternative treatments such as:
Most people who have a whiplash injury will recover in two to three months. Some people may have pain for years. In some cases, long-term pain will be due not specifically to a whiplash injury but to some other damage to the joints, disks, or ligaments of the neck.
Some people may think it’s “not worth the hassle” to seek compensation from another driver’s insurance carrier after a relatively minor rear-ender that left them with pain for only a few days. Although whiplash is often considered a “minor” injury, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to compensation when that injury was caused by someone else’s fault.
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