Whiplash is the most common injury people experience after a car accident. For most, the pain and stiffness dissipate after a few days, and the remaining suffering ends after a few weeks.
But for a surprising number (between 12 and 50 percent), it continues after a year.
Why is whiplash so hard to pin down, and what are the long term effects of whiplash? Keep reading to learn more about dealing with neck pain after a car accident.
How Long Does Whiplash Last – And Why?
The symptoms of whiplash usually go away after a few days. However, some people are more likely to experience not only the injury but a more severe form of it.
Research says you are more prone to whiplash if you:
- Already have neck pain
- Have a desk job (and the corresponding tight muscles)
- Are a woman
- Are young
- Are rear-ended (and particularly if your car is stopped)
Additionally, your whiplash is more likely to last longer if:
- The pain is severe immediately
- The pain comes on in the hours post-accident
- The pain is accompanied by neurological symptoms
- The pain shoots down your arm
When your injury or pain is more severe, then you are more likely to face the long-term effects of whiplash.
Whiplash Symptoms Can Mask Other Injuries
If you were in an accident and now present symptoms of whiplash, you need a medical evaluation.
Whiplash can present delayed symptoms, but you may also not notice spinal or brain injuries for several days. Adrenaline can mask all the related symptoms for several days.
Be sure to receive a medical evaluation of some type – either at the ER or with your doctor – within two to three days after an accident.
Remember: you don’t have to hit your head to suffer from a brain injury. The movement that causes whiplash can also result in a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Are There Long-Term Effects of Whiplash?
Whiplash is the inflammatory response your body has to a neck injury (cervical acceleration-deceleration or CAD).
Your body’s short-term response may include:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Back pain
- Tingling/pins and needles
- Reduced range of motion
Almost everyone will experience at least some of these symptoms. However, when they are more pronounced, you are more likely to experience chronic whiplash or long-term effects.
Long-term effects can include both pain and more cognitive symptoms:
- Chronic stiffness in the neck
- Chronic headaches
- Jaw pain
- Blurry vision
- Numbness in the arms and hands
- Memory problems
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Personality changes
All of these can impact the way you live your life because managing the injury requires ongoing medical care.
Treating Whiplash Can Help
Because whiplash is so common, it’s tempting to think it doesn’t require treatment. Even though it will usually heal on its own, particularly if you are healthy and don’t already have neck or back issues, seeking treatment is essential.
Both your doctor and a chiropractor can help you manage your whiplash.
They will recommend things like:
- NSAIDs (Tylenol, Advil, etc.)
- Heat and ice
If your pain is severe, you may receive prescription medications or muscle relaxants. However, doctors tend to prescribe these when over-the-counter therapies are ineffective.
Chiropractic care can also help you heal faster. A combination of manipulations to ensure your spine is correctly aligned as well as assigned exercises and stretches can relieve the symptoms and manage inflammation.
Is Long-Term Whiplash Worthy of a Personal Injury Claim?
Victims of car accidents can and do sue over whiplash injuries – and they can win. Only a personal injury claim lawyer can confidently tell you whether the claim is worth pursuing.
To file a personal injury lawsuit, you not only need to be injured but it needs to be the result of someone else’s negligence (thanks to liability as defined by tort law).
If it is possible to prove liability, then you have two options: settling out of court or trying the case in front of a judge. In cases of negligence, many parties (and their insurance companies) prefer to settle out of court.
How Much Can I Win in a Whiplash Case?
The value of your settlement varies according to the severity of the case.
A typical whiplash case may settle for between $2,500 and $10,000. In cases where the whiplash includes nerve damage and other long-term complications, you can ask for five or six figures.
You Need a Record of Treatment to Sue
One of the issues that car accident victims face when suing is their medical record.
Many people experience whiplash or other back or neck injuries but don’t visit the ER or a doctor within an appropriate timeframe. If there’s no record of your injury at all, the case is even more challenging to make.
Generally, you need a diagnosis and evidence of injury (x-rays, CTs, etc.) and proof of following a treatment plan.
Are you out of luck if you didn’t visit the doctor? Potentially. When you wait more than a few days to see a physician, you signal that:
- Your injury isn’t severe enough to warrant immediate medical attention
- Your injury perhaps originated elsewhere
When the defendant can make one – or both – of these arguments, it is difficult to receive compensation even if they are the liable party.
Are You Struggling with the Long Term Effects of Whiplash?
Whiplash is a common injury. In most cases, the symptoms disappear on their own over a few days or weeks. But if you suffered from neck pain or an injury before whiplash, you could experience the long term effects of whiplash.
If you have whiplash after a car accident, you should always see a doctor or a chiropractor. At a minimum, they can ensure your short-term case heals faster. Care can also help you manage more severe cases and prevent further complications of whiplash.
Whiplash is also a reason to file a personal injury lawsuit, particularly if you were not liable for the accident and it’s now getting in the way of your life. Click here to see how a car accident or personal injury attorney can make a difference in your case.
Seth Bader is an Auto accident, Workers Compensation and Personal Injury Attorney who practices in Atlanta, Rome, Savannah, Norcross, Carrollton, Georgia. He graduated from Florida State University College of Law, and has been practicing law for 14 years. Seth Bader believes in fighting for the injured. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.