Whiplash and other neck injuries can occur following any motor vehicle accident, even those that are considered “minor.” While most individuals who are diagnosed with whiplash will fully recover, the injury has the potential to become chronic and cause long-lasting complications for car accident victims. When whiplash becomes chronic, it can have a significant impact on the individual’s quality of life and earning capacity.
How Whiplash Occurs
Whiplash is a soft tissue injury that occurs when the head moves backward before jolting forward during a motor vehicle accident. It’s most commonly suffered in rear-end accidents, however, it can occur in t-bone crashes, frontal crashes, and even rollover accidents.
The injury occurs when the soft tissues including muscles and ligaments within the neck are forced to move beyond their normal range of motion. While high-speed accidents pose the greatest risk for the injury, many whiplash injuries occur in accidents where the speed was less than 5 mph.
Recognizing Whiplash Symptoms
Symptoms of whiplash can appear within the first 24 hours following a motor vehicle accident. However, it is not uncommon for it to take several days for symptoms to manifest. These symptoms include neck pain, stiffness, and loss of range of motion within the neck. Symptoms may also include persistent headaches that emanate from the base of the skull.
It’s common for victims to experience significant fatigue, tenderness, and tinnitus. Some victims may suffer from blurred vision and dizziness. Patients may also suffer sleep disturbances and problems with memory or concentration. These are typically short-lived, however, they can become chronic and cause severe disruption to the individual’s life and lifestyle.
Most physicians prescribe over the counter pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen. For more serious injuries, they may prescribe prescription painkillers and/or muscle relaxants that can alleviate muscle spasms. Treatment depends on whether it is a Grade 0, 1,2, or 3 whiplash injury. Those with Grade 3 injuries may suffer permanent neurological impairment.
Physicians also immobilize the neck via a neck brace. Physical therapy and chiropractic care are often prescribed to help the individual gradually regain range of motion. These treatments typically last a few weeks. For victims who suffer more severe injuries, these treatments can extend for months and may be coupled with surgery to repair any damage to ligaments or muscles.