A lingering whiplash injury is a sign that treatment is not working. While whiplash is an incredibly common injury an injured neck can be detrimental to day-to-day life. Most people assume that whiplash can improve within a few weeks with little to no treatment. However, it is just as common for whiplash to cause long-lasting complications and chronic pain. In some cases, Whiplash victims may continue to have pain for years after the injury.
What Is Whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury to the neck. It is caused by a forceful, rapid back-and-forth motion of your neck, very similar to the cracking of a whip, thus the name whiplash. Motor vehicle accidents are, by far, the most common cause of whiplash, but not the only cause. This type of injury to the soft tissues of the neck is also common in:
- contact sports
- physical abuse
- slips and falls
- horseback riding accidents
- cycling accidents
- Falls from heights
- Assault and battery
Whiplash can be caused by any sudden motion that causes your neck to whip forward and backward. It can affect your soft tissues, muscles and ligaments, tendons, nerves in your neck, and even your spine. Most people will recover from whiplash within several weeks if they follow a specialized plan laid out by their Medical Physician, Physical Therapist or Chiropractor. Some people, though, will have long-lasting effects of whiplash, especially if they don’t receive treatment or if they wait too long to start treatments.
Symptoms of Whiplash
When whiplash occurs, adrenaline and shock from your accident can mask the pain of your injury. That’s why it’s common for whiplash symptoms to take a while to show up, but they should not be ignored when they do show up. Musculoskeletal injuries like whiplash can take weeks to show symptoms, but that doesn’t make the injury any less severe. The main symptom of a lingering whiplash injury is neck pain or upper back pain, but symptoms will vary from patient to patient.
Some people will only experience mild symptoms, while others may experience things like
- Spasms or tightness in the upper back or neck
- Pain and stiffness when you move your neck
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Difficulty swallowing and chewing
- Burning or tingling sensations
- Limited range of motion
- Shoulder pain
- Neck pain
Severe whiplash can damage your intervertebral joints, as well as your discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, and the nerves of the upper back and neck. With time and proper treatment, most people can make a complete recovery.
Whiplash Injuries: Now and Later
Whiplash can cause both acute and chronic injuries. In the hours or days following a crash, the symptoms of whiplash typically include neck pain and stiffness, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, and fatigue. Ringing in the ears, problems with memory or concentration, and sleep disturbances can also occur.
When a whiplash injury first presents itself, treatment typically includes muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medications, and other medications aimed at reducing swelling and stiffness to relieve pain. Physical therapy may be recommended for more serious cases of whiplash, especially if it becomes difficult to move the neck or the pain spreads into the shoulders or arms.
Most people with whiplash recover in a few weeks, according to the National Institute of Health. In other cases, however, symptoms persist for months or years. Severe whiplash can cause permanent damage to many of the delicate structures in the neck, including the spine, nerves, muscles, and soft tissue. When whiplash injuries persist, the injured person may face a lifetime of chronic pain, restricted movement, and limited opportunities to engage in meaningful life activities like work, sports, and other hobbies.
How Whiplash is Diagnosed
Even if your neck pain is only mild, you should go to a doctor. X-rays may be done to rule out any bone fractures. The doctor can determine if you need a CT scan or MRI if there is a concern you have a herniated disc or significant ligament injury. These tests are better able to identify soft tissue injuries than plain radiographs.
Most doctors treat whiplash using conservative methods such as:
- Encouraging exercise to remain as active as possible
- Using a soft cervical collar (brace) to temporarily immobilize the neck during the healing process only if pain cannot be controlled.
- Using a cervical collar (brace) for only a very short period of time (less than a week).
- Ice or heat can be used to control pain, muscle spasm, and inflammation.
- Medications to reduce pain, swelling, and muscle spasms are often prescribed and can be very helpful.
- A short course of spinal manipulation or mobilization can help in restoring normal positioning of the muscles and joints to allow for an active therapy program.
- Physical therapy helps to increase circulation, restore range of motion, and promote healing. The use of modalities such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation should only be used in the early stages of treatment to reduce pain and assist in getting an active therapy program started.
In more severe cases of whiplash, additional treatments may be necessary. Patients with continued neck pain may find relief from trigger point injections. If symptoms persist for more than 6 weeks, it may be due to a more severe injury involving the facet joints or discs. Injections and other procedures that try to block the area of pain can be used in some situations with the advisement of your doctor. If the whiplash causes a pinched nerve, a spine surgeon may need to evaluate you further for treatment options. Surgery is rarely necessary. Usually, a doctor performs surgery to treat herniated discs that have not improved with more conservative non-surgical measures.
Can A Whiplash Injury Return?
Whiplash injuries don’t necessarily “return.” It’s more like your whiplash just never goes away, instead of coming back. If you do not treat your whiplash there may be serious, long-term effects. While most cases of whiplash resolve within a few weeks or months with prompt medical care, the pain and restrictions that stem from a lingering whiplash injury can last for years or the rest of your life if they aren’t treated. This can make it seem like your whiplash injury comes back every once in a while. Torn or overextended muscles and tendons in your neck will limit your range of motion and place stress on your neck, head, shoulders, and spine.
The long-term effects of whiplash include:
- Chronic Headaches
- Vertebrae Misalignment
- Degenerative Disc disease
- Chronic Neck Pain and Soreness
- Stiffness and Long-term Mobility Issues
- Difficulty sleeping, resulting in fatigue
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Blurred vision
- Pain in the jaw
- Reduced range of motion in the cervical area
- Memory problems
- Difficulty focusing
- Pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or legs
- Emotional distress
- Worsened general health
These symptoms can turn into full-blown health conditions with flare-ups that can make it seem like your injury has gone away and then come back again. Each case of whiplash is different and will require specialized care. If you think you might be suffering from whiplash, you should seek professional care so you don’t put your future health and well-being at risk.
What Should You Do If You Have a Lingering Whiplash Injury?
Recent studies have shown that, in many cases, whiplash does not disappear in a few weeks. Symptoms can persist for years, causing pain, limiting mobility, and diminishing quality of life. If you are suffering from the long-term effects of whiplash, it is essential that you continue to get the medical treatment you need. You may have a claim for more than moderate injury sustained in a traffic crash or other accident. Insurance companies are notoriously reluctant to pay whiplash claims, so you should consult with an attorney as soon as you can.
Compensation for a Lingering Whiplash Injury in Georgia
If a car accident caused whiplash, the at-fault driver may be liable for your injuries. Georgia law allows injured people to seek monetary compensation from any party whose negligence caused injury, including whiplash injuries. Compensation covers a wide range of losses related to a whiplash injury, including:
- Medical bills, including bills for prescriptions, medical equipment, office visits, and other costs;
- Therapy and rehabilitation bills for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and similar treatments;
- Lost wages from any missed work due to whiplash injuries;
- Bills for repairing or replacing a damaged vehicle or other property damaged in an accident; and
- Compensation for pain and suffering.
Since most cases of whiplash occur as a result of rear-end car crashes, the best way to protect yourself on the road is to wear your seat belt correctly and on every ride. Also, make sure the headrest in your vehicle is not too low and avoid driving in an overly reclined position. Your headrest is not likely to protect your neck, but the position of your body can decrease the likelihood of an injury.
Call the Law Office of Julie M. Essa, LLC today if you have been in a car accident. We can get you the treatment you need so that you can heal. Sign up for a free consultation below or call our office at 770-955-8322 for English or 770-771-3658 For Spanish.