When most people hear the term “whiplash”, they associate it with car accidents. Accidents, especially those in which a car is hit from the rear, are one of the most common causes of whiplash injuries, but there are many others. And although medical practitioners are often correct when they say that the injury will heal with no permanent disability, they do not have the ability to predict which patients will heal quickly, which will need months of therapy and rehabilitation, and which will be left with permanent pain and loss of motion.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a non-medical term for several different kinds of neck injuries that occur when your body suddenly accelerates and then decelerates without warning, and then decelerates. In the classic case of a whiplash injury, your neck moves backwards and then forwards, quickly and violently, pushing your neck muscles, ligaments and tendons beyond their normal range of motion.
While whiplash injuries are a common result of a car accident, you can be injured in exactly the same way by anything that causes your neck to go through a similar sequence of motions. Thrill seeking activities like roller coasters and bungee jumping have been associated with whiplash injuries, but you can also suffer whiplash from more pedestrian situations such as being struck by falling objects or an assault.
The fact that you do not feel pain immediately after the incident does not mean that you have not been injured. Many whiplash victims wake up the next morning and realize that they are in pain. The first treatment that you should try is an over-the-counter medication (Advil, Aleve, Tylenol etc.) and ice. Many people believe that heat is good for whiplash, and this can be true after a day or two, but in the immediate aftermath of the accident, ice is normally more helpful because it can reduce swelling and inflammation.
Common symptoms of whiplash
Whiplash can cause a variety of symptoms besides localized pain and stiffness. Some other common signs of a whiplash injury can include:
- Headaches, especially those originating at the base of your skull.
- Blurred vision.
- Difficulty concentrating, problems with your memory or irritability.
- Insomnia, which can either make it difficult for you to fall asleep in the evening or to return to sleep in the middle of the night.
Possible signs of an emergency
If you have any of these symptoms you should not wait to see if your condition improves. If you cannot get a same-day appointment with your doctor, you should go to the emergency room:
- Pain on moving your head
- Pain radiating down one or both arms
- Numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms
What should I do if my condition doesn’t improve?
You may find that your pain makes it impossible for you to continue with your daily activities or that it is not improving after a few days. In this case you should see your doctor and ask whether you might benefit from a prescription pain reliever or muscle relaxant. Your doctor may also recommend that you use a cervical collar or that you see a physical therapist.
Many victims of whiplash will heal with no serious or permanent effects, but if you have been injured in a car accident or in another circumstance that could have caused a serious whiplash injury, you should consult with an experienced attorney. Many of the activities that doctors recommend to whiplash patients (rest, modification of daily activities, and professional therapy sessions) are expensive, and they need to be continued until you are fully healed. A consultation with a personal injury attorney may help you to discover ways to pay for your therapy and to give yourself the best chance to make a full recovery.