Whiplash occurs when your neck very quickly and suddenly goes from backward to forward, causing a sudden stretching to your muscles and tendons in your neck, which can cause damage. Concerning auto accidents, the most common time whiplash occurs is during a rear end collision, because when your car gets hit from behind, your neck is the most susceptible to jerk quickly from back to front like a whip.
Whiplash comes in two forms:
- Minor whiplash: this goes away on its own in a few days.
- Severe whiplash: if untreated, this form of whiplash can last from a few months to as long as a few years.
Aside from car accidents, whiplash can also be caused by physical trauma, sports injuries, amusement park rides etc.
What are the signs and symptoms of whiplash?
If you find that you are suffering from neck pain after a car accident, you likely have whiplash. It is important to note that you might not get these symptoms until a couple of days after the car crash, so it is important to keep an eye out for any physical changes in the days following the accident.
The most common signs of whiplash are:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Tingling in the arms
Also, if you find that your neck pain is steadily getting worse, or that it’s hard to get the full range of movement in your arms, that’s another sign of whiplash.
Other signs of whiplash that are not as well-known are:
- Blurred vision
- Memory problems
- Ringing in the ears
- TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction)
These above symptoms are considered to be the more serious sign of whiplash because it can indicate a concussion or brain injury.
How to Treat Whiplash
When it comes to whiplash, there are a large number of treatment options that can help treat the injury. However, the type of treatment you get depends on the severity of your whiplash.
If you find that the above symptoms are still present in the days following the car crash, it is important to consult a medical professional. The first step is to go to your doctor and get a physical exam which will help determine how severe your injury is. This physical exam should consist of testing your range of motion, and determine which muscles are under stress. Other tests that might be conducted are x-rays, imaging tests, MRIs and CAT scans.
After the initial diagnosis, you may receive several treatment options (which vary on the severity of whiplash). These options might be:
- Over the counter pain medication
- Physical therapy
- Rehabilitation programs
In the majority of cases, the whiplash will heal on its own. However, sometimes you might need more extensive treatment to ensure proper healing such as rest, medication and specialized exercises.
Alternative methods to help treat the pain associated with whiplash are:
- Chiropractic care
- Massage (which helps in relieving the tension in the neck muscles)
- Electronic nerve stimulation: the electric current might help reduce neck pain
Complications Associated with Whiplash
Some of the lesser known complications associated with whiplash is experiencing chronic pain and/or headaches in the years following the car accident. Sometimes, this pain can be traced back to the damaged neck joints and ligaments and the doctor will be able to implement the proper healing methods.
However, it is rare that there are any long-term complications from whiplash (that has been treated). The recovery time with the appropriate treatment and care can be anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
The Phases of Whiplash in an Automobile Accident
Phase 1: When you get into a car accident, your car may feel like it is being pushed out from under you, which causes your back to be flattened against the back of your seat.
Phase 2: This will cause a force in your spine – which compresses your discs and joints. Then the combination of the car moving and the force of it will cause your head to suddenly snap backward and then forward.
Phase 3: Your torso is typically stopped by your seatbelt, which leaves your head free to move forward without any block. The will cause your neck muscles to strain and possible tear fibers in the spinal disc. This occurs with a seatbelt on. Without a seatbelt, the damage would be far more extensive.
What Action to Take for Legal Purposes
If you are involved in a car accident, make sure to seek any immediate medical treatment. At the scene of the accident, it is recommended to advise the officer on scene that you will be seeking treatment. Make sure to not give a statement to anyone until you consult with an automobile accident lawyer.
Keep a Record
Make sure to keep a record of your symptoms, medical appointments, medication, treatments etc. after the accident. If you find that you are unable to do a certain task, make note of it. Document any changes in your day to day activity to keep on file to make your case (if you choose to file one) stronger.