Whiplash is a unique injury that occurs most often to drivers and passengers involved in rear-end collision automobile accidents, when the force from the impact causes the head to snap violently back and forward. Because the term "whiplash" has developed something of a negative connotation through the years, today the injury is commonly referred to as cervical sprain, cervical strain, or hyperextension injury. No matter its name, a crash does not need to happen at high speed for a whiplash injury to result, because even at low speeds the unexpected impact can cause injury to vertebrae, muscles, and ligaments in the neck.
(Note: While whiplash injuries most often result from car accidents, they can occur in any situation where a sudden back and forth "whipping" movement occurs in the neck area, including slips, falls, blows to the head from an assault, and injuries suffered through participation in sports activities.)
Whiplash injuries are not of a type that can always be immediately recognized. If you are involved in an automobile accident, your natural physiological responses and the "heat of the moment" may not allow you to relax. But over the course of the next few days after the accident, you might experience:
- tightness and stiffness in the neck
- serious neck pain (dull and aching, rather than sharp)
- head aches
- problems with balance and equilibrium
- back pain
- memory problems
- difficulty with concentration
If you are suffering from a whiplash injury, your attorney will most likely refer you to a medical specialist for treatment, rather than to a general physician. You may be referred to a back and neck expert, chiropractor, or neurologist. Treatment from such medical specialists can include immobilization of the neck (with a brace or cervical collar), range-of-motion and physical therapy, muscle relaxants, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and massage therapy. In severe cases of whiplash injuries, where muscle or ligament damage is extensive, cervical traction and even surgery may be necessary.
In some cases, recovery from whiplash injuries can take as little as two to three weeks, and in most instances victims will completely recover within three months. More serious cases can last for a year or more, and in rare situations severe whiplash injuries can result in a chronic pain condition that may last for decades.
Whiplash injuries may seem minor at first, especially due to the lack of any visible symptoms, but if left undiagnosed and untreated whiplash injuries can lead to chronic pain. Untreated whiplash injuries can also make a person more susceptible to future back and neck injuries. If you have been involved in an automobile accident or other incident in which you have suffered a whiplash injury, it is crucial that you receive medical attention, then contact an experienced attorney to guarantee that your legal rights are protected.