Whiplash Injuries from Auto Accidents

Whiplash, also known as neck sprain and strain, is defined as an injury to the neck due to the rapid back and forth movement of the head and upper back in a car accident. It is usually seen with rear-end collisions. However, other forms of trauma can cause whiplash. Three of the top symptoms are neck pain, stiffness and headache. Usually, the symptoms are resolved within a month.

In some cases, the symptoms persist for a year or more and may become chronic, leaving the victim with a lifelong injury. Let’s take a look at whiplash, what it is, how it happens and its prognosis. Beyond that, we’ll review what is needed to obtain compensation for whiplash and actions an auto accident lawyer will take in these cases.


What Is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a short-lived or chronic injury to the cervical (neck) muscles and ligaments. It is caused by a rapid movement of the neck during a car accident as it is thrown forward and backward by the momentum of the crash. This movement can result in disk injury and pressure on cervical nerves in addition to damaging ligaments and muscles. This hyperextension/hyperflexion injury does not always become symptomatic in the first hours or days after an accident, particularly in minor accidents. In more serious collisions, whiplash can cause chronic pain over the victim’s lifetime. Since whiplash is not visible on X-rays, it is harder to document, apart from the person’s lack of mobility on physical exam. That is why it is important to see a physician as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Whiplash

Certain symptoms are commonly found with whiplash. They are:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Neck pain
  • Exacerbation of pain with movement
  • Headache, particularly injuries that originate at the base of the skull
  • Decreased range of motion in the neck
  • Upper extremity numbness and tingling
  • Shoulder pain and pain between the shoulder blades
  • Arm pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
  • Visual disturbances
  • Sleep problems
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Irritability
  • Depression

Additional Problems Associated With Whiplash

Early intense symptoms such as headache, neck pain and stiffness accompanied by arm pain are prognosticators of chronic pain. If you have suffered cervical strain and sprain before or are older, the chances of long-lasting pain are increased.

Diagnosis of Whiplash

While many times whiplash is not seen on imaging tests, your doctor will follow a specific protocol, beginning with a thorough physical exam, testing what elicits increased pain and examining your range of motion. Your doctor will ask about the frequency of symptoms, how it has changed since the accident and the degree of decreased range of motion you may feel. You will be asked if you’ve ever had an injury to your neck in the past or whether a prior condition ever resulted in pain. On occasion, whiplash may aggravate a preexisting condition that never caused pain to become a source of considerable discomfort.

The next phase includes moving your head to the limits of comfort. For example, a non-injured person will be able to bend their neck to the side 90 degrees, while someone with whiplash will not be able to do that. Your doctor will note the degree of movement that elicits a painful reaction. He or she will examine the amount of tenderness in the neck and upper back by applying mild pressure to the muscles of your back as well as testing reflexes in the arms to determine additional issues.

Imaging Tests for Whiplash

Radiographs such as an X-ray, MRI or CT scan will often not reveal cervical strain and sprain but will be used to rule out any other condition such as a herniated disk that could be causing symptoms. Sometimes, the condition is a pre-existing on, and in other cases, it is caused directly by the myofascial injury to the neck called whiplash.

Treatment of Whiplash

Treatment of whiplash has several goals, chief among which are easier movement, decreased pain and the ability to engage in healthy activities. The type of treatment depends on the nature of the injury and its severity. However, some common modalities are:

  • Pain medication: The choice of pain medication depends on the severity of the damage so that your doctor chooses either over-the-counter or prescription medications. OTC meds include Tylenol or ibuprofen to control both moderate and minor pain associated with cervical strain and sprain. With severe symptoms such as nerve pain, antidepressants may be added to the regimen.
  • Rest: This is an important element in the relief of whiplash-related pain.
  • Heat or cold: Applying heat or cold to the area throughout the day helps relieve pain.
  • Muscle relaxants: Such drugs are useful in the short term to relieve pain due to muscle spasm and tightness.
  • Lidocaine injections: Lidocaine is used as a numbing agent that will relieve pain if injected into the affected tissues.
  • Exercise: Specific exercises such as stretching are used to improve range of motion.

Consultation With a Whiplash Lawyer

After documenting the injury by seeing a physician, it is helpful to take advantage of a car accident lawyer’s free consultation to obtain information about filing a claim. Your insurance company will not wait to assign an adjuster and investigate the accident and potential injuries. You have the same rights and having an attorney represent you achieves the following:

  • Gives you the time to heal since the attorney will be dealing with insurers in your place.
  • The attorney performs a thorough review of the accident by investigating the accident site and obtaining police reports, taking witness statements, reviewing medical records, gathering financial loss statements, and on occasion, obtaining forensic expert advice to better document negligence.
  • The lawyer will question medical providers about whether the cervical strain and sprain aggravated a pre-existing condition. If it was, that increases your need for compensation.
  • He or she will file documents on time so as not to risk the case being denied.
  • The attorney also reviews any offers proposed by the insurance company to see if they meet your needs.
  • Your lawyer will make sure you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement before accepting payment on a claim. If you have not reached this point and additional medical procedures are needed to relieve your pain, they will not be paid for once you accept an offer.