If you’ve ever suffered from whiplash caused by a car accident, then you know how painful it can be. You also know how hard it is to recover from it. But a surprising number of people don’t understand what whiplash is. Many people have heard the term but confuse it with a variety of other types of injuries.
To remedy that, here’s everything you need to know about whiplash. We’ll cover exactly what it is, how long it lasts, how it’s treated, and more. By the end, you’ll be as close to an expert on whiplash as possible. And if you’re ever in an accident that could cause it, you’ll understand the symptoms and how to get the help you need. Let’s dive in.
Put simply, whiplash is a neck injury that occurs when your neck moves in a forceful, abrupt back-and-forth motion. The name itself refers to the similarity of the motion with the lash of a whip. When it happens, you can sprain, tear, and otherwise damage the tendons, ligaments, and muscles in your neck. You might also suffer damage to your upper spine and the spinal discs between the vertebrae there.
There are a variety of situations that can cause you to suffer whiplash. By far, the most common is rear-end car accidents. But there are other ways to suffer a whiplash injury, including:
In short, any activity that may produce the neck motion associated with whiplash can cause the injury. And if it happens to you, you may not know you’ve suffered an injury right away, or you might know immediately that something is wrong. So what is whiplash? It’s a severe neck injury caused by sudden shock to your neck that can have debilitating consequences for some time after you suffer it.
In many cases, the pain from whiplash should begin to subside within a few days of the initial injury. And it can take up to three months before the majority of the pain goes away. But that can vary based on how severe and extensive the injury is. Some people end up dealing with the aftereffects of whiplash for far longer.
Studies on the subject have shown that as many as 50% of whiplash injuries take more than a year to heal. And such cases have some things in common. They tend to come along with more severe symptoms that begin soon after the accident that caused the whiplash.
People that suffer from long-term whiplash symptoms also tend to have neurological symptoms like memory loss and loss of feeling or pain in their arms and fingers. Those are indications that the underlying damage caused by the whiplash is more severe and will take longer to heal. So if you’ve suffered an accident and have wondered how long does whiplash last – the answer depends on how severe the initial injuries to your neck were, to begin with.
The moment it happens, you may feel pain in your neck and shoulders. But there’s no single answer to the question of what does whiplash feel like. In some cases, it may take days for the pain caused by the damage to set in or become noticeable. The symptoms you might experience are:
In extreme cases, some people suffering from whiplash report symptoms like blurry vision, ringing in the ears, and sleep disturbances. Your injury may even trigger a bout of depression, even in people with no prior history of it.
In most cases, your doctor will have to decide how to treat your injury as the course of treatment depends on how severe your symptoms are. But there are some general treatments that most cases receive. The first is the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, which your doctor may prescribe to ease the pain and swelling in your neck. They may also prescribe muscle relaxers to make it easier for you to move while the symptoms persist.
But you will also need physical therapy to regain the full range of motion in your neck and to prevent the limitations caused by your injury to become permanent. Physical therapy for whiplash typically includes stretching and careful measured movement of the neck and head. It’s usually done in an outpatient setting with a schedule determined by the physical therapist in consultation with your doctor.
You may also be asked to do some range-of-motion exercises at home, too. They’ll consist of some of the same movements you do with the physical therapist, as well as some additional stretching. You’ll have to complete the exercises three or four times a day, and it will help you to relieve the pain and promote the healing of the damage in your neck caused by the whiplash accident.
One of the conditions that people frequently confuse with whiplash is a concussion. And they do often go hand-in-hand. A concussion can result from a blow to the head suffered in the same accident that caused a whiplash injury. But can you get a concussion from whiplash itself? The answer is yes.
When your head jerks forward in a sudden, forceful way, your brain may come into contact with the interior surface of your skull. This has the same effect as if you had struck your head on a hard surface. And it’s the very same motion that causes whiplash. And although the two injuries aren’t directly related, they may happen simultaneously.
Whiplash also presents many of the same symptoms as a concussion, which might make both more difficult to diagnose in the aftermath of an accident. Both can cause headaches, ringing in the ears, and disorientation. But concussions do have a few symptoms that are distinct from whiplash. These include sensitivity to light, fatigue, amnesia, nausea, and vomiting. Those symptoms often make it possible for your doctor to differentiate between the two conditions so you can receive the correct treatment for your injuries.
When you suffer damage to your spinal discs or any of the vertebrae in your upper back, it may cause pressure on nearby nerves. That can cause pain in the immediate area, but can also lead to a whole host of other problems.
One of the most common neurological problems associated with whiplash is referred pain. That’s when an injury to the nerves in one area of the body causes you to feel pain somewhere else. Whiplash tends to show up as pain in the shoulders and the back of the head. And it may also cause headaches and tingling in the arms and fingers.
But there’s also evidence that it can trigger a neurological condition known as central hypersensitivity. This happens when the injuries sustained cause the nervous system to be overstimulated, which leads to even more pain. It also causes the pain from other injuries to be amplified, even if they happen after the initial accident. In rare cases, some patients even suffer from long-term pain sensitivity for years after their initial accident.
By now, it should be obvious that a whiplash injury is a serious matter. It’s the kind of thing that can have life-changing consequences for the victim and might require a lengthy recovery period. In some cases, you might end up dealing with the aftereffects of a whiplash injury for a lifetime. And if you believe you may have suffered whiplash in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
But you’ll have to act quickly to safeguard your rights. It’s critical that you receive prompt medical care, both at the scene of your accident and afterward. Because whiplash injuries are sometimes difficult to diagnose, doing so will eliminate any questions as to where and why you sustained your injuries. Establishing a medical history concerning your whiplash is an essential part of filing a claim.
And you’ll also need to hire a car accident lawyer from a personal injury firm that specializes in whiplash injuries. They’ll be able to guide you through the process and make sure you get the restitution you deserve. They’ll fight for you in court and make sure that the driver responsible for your accident won’t walk away while you continue to suffer. And although that’s small comfort when you’re suffering from whiplash, it will help you to breathe a little easier while you focus on healing and getting back to the life you love.