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Everything You (N)ever Wanted to Know About Whiplash

Everything You (N)ever Wanted to Know About Whiplash

Hopefully you’ll never have to experience the excruciating, lingering pain of whiplash – the damaging neck injury that occurs when your head is pushed forward by a powerful impact and instantly rebounds, whiplike, from the resulting reactive force in the opposite direction. Technically, doctors call whiplash a cervical acceleration/deceleration (CAD) trauma — it’s a painful, real-world example of Isaac Newton’s famous Third Law of Motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center reports that more than two million Americans suffer from whiplash every year. We call that a real pain in the neck!

And painful it is. The immediate aftereffects of whiplash often begin as minor aches, but things can get progressively worse until you’re experiencing debilitating agony that can make life miserable for weeks, months, or even years. To help reduce the suffering, we thought we’d take this opportunity to answer several common questions about whiplash, offer some advice on accepted treatments/diagnosis tips, and forms of therapy that can aid in recovery. Let’s get started.

What Causes Whiplash?

 
As we’ve mentioned, strong, forward forces (like those experienced in a rear-end car crash) followed by an immediate rebound in the opposite direction often result in a powerful whipping effect on the head and neck. We call that experience a whiplash for obvious reasons. But even seemingly minor impacts can also trigger whiplash; experts have noted whiplash injuries from low-speed collisions, even as slow as 5-10 miles per hour. The Mayo Clinic also mentions that whiplash can occur from slip-and-fall accidents, sports injuries, or physical abuse, among other causes. Essentially, any event that exerts unexpected forward-reverse (or vice versa) motion on the neck vertebrae and surrounding muscles can result in whiplash.

How Does Whiplash Feel?

 
Whiplash is first and foremost described as pain experienced mainly in the neck. But the Cleveland Clinic also notes that there are a number of other distressing symptoms that can indicate you’ve experienced it. Among them are fatigue, headaches, muscle spasms, neck stiffness, and generalized neck, back and shoulder pain. The Cleveland Clinic even mentions that some people suffering from whiplash experience memory problems, difficulty sleeping, unexplained mood changes, or anxiety. With such a variety of potential symptoms, it’s always prudent to be examined by a medical professional to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment if you believe you’ve sustained injury.

How Do You Know You Have Whiplash?

 
Getting checked by a trained healthcare professional is the best way to know for sure. The Mayo Clinic suggests a number of possible tests you can undergo to determine the extent of injury. While some of the damage occurs in soft tissue (and is therefore difficult to see with traditional X-rays), there can still be dislocations or fractures that x-rays and CT scan imagery can reveal. The Mayo Clinic also reports that Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI) scans can indicate the presence of some typical soft-tissue and bone injuries common to whiplash victims. Beyond those diagnostic tests, doctors can check for range of motion changes, soreness, swelling, or other signs that you’ve experienced neck trauma.

Is Whiplash Considered a Serious Injury?

 
Anything that can cause spinal damage is dangerous – and whiplash can certainly affect the vertebrae surrounding your spinal cord. DMC Healthcare states that, unless whiplash injuries are promptly and effectively treated, their impact can persist for months – or even last for a lifetime. So, it’s clearly evident that whiplash, while not necessarily life-threatening, can be a serious and devastating injury.

What Treatments Are Available for Whiplash?

 
If you’ve seen someone whose neck was immobilized by a thick foam collar, it’s likely that unfortunate person suffered a whiplash. But in recent years, the Cleveland Clinic and other expert organizations indicate it’s now considered more effective to limit the use of such cervical collars to just the first few days following a whiplash injury — it’s believed that wearing a collar too long can weaken neck muscles and ultimately delay healing. Other forms of recommended whiplash treatment can help relieve pain and promote recovery. They include applying cold packs or heating pads, taking over-the-counter medications to reduce pain and inflammation, undergoing physical therapy to stretch neck muscles and relieve pain, and even seeking out chiropractic manipulation or massage treatment. In more severe cases, the Mayo Clinic also recommends possibly using prescription pain medications.

How Long Does It Take for Whiplash to Heal?

 
Sadly, the answer can range from weeks, to months, to many years. Depending on the extent of the damage, whiplash symptoms can even persist for a lifetime. Because we’re all different, and each accident is unique, it’s nearly impossible to predict how long whiplash pain can linger. However, in most cases, whiplash symptoms typically begin to subside in a matter of a few weeks. The Mayo Clinic indicates that the more severe the injuries appeared to be at the onset of the accident, the longer they tend to last. Chronic, whiplash-related pain also seems to be closely related to injuries that resulted from higher speeds or were complicated by other spinal injuries, old age, or previous experiences with whiplash.

Can I Sue for a Whiplash Injury?

 
It’s often said that in America, you can sue anyone for anything. While that claim is frequently fodder for late-night comedians, you can certainly take legal action against someone for whiplash injuries that are not your fault. Michigan is a no-fault auto insurance state, so it is your auto insurer (or qualified health coverage if you opted out of PIP coverage, which we do not recommend) that will pay for your medical bills. However, if your injury meets the serious impairment of body function standard, you can also sue the negligent driver for your pain and suffering. One thing to consider, though, is that if your whiplash was caused through your own negligence (for instance, if you rear-ended someone) you’re generally ineligible to sue. Unless, for example, you were part of a multi-car collision where someone tailgating you rammed into your car, propelling you into the car in front of yours. (Remember that Michigan law says if you hit someone from behind, it’s almost always considered your fault for following too closely!)

In general, if you’re involved in any kind of accident where someone else caused you to experience whiplash (or any other form of significant bodily harm), it’s always a good idea to check with a personal injury attorney (yes, that means us!) to receive compensation for your pain and losses. The best way to get started is to call us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946), and we’ll be on it, faster than you can crack a whip!