Dealing with Whiplash after a Car Accident

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Whiplash is an uncomfortable and frustrating injury that frequently occurs in car accidents, particularly when a victim has been rear-ended. The condition may take up to several days to manifest in some cases. Whenever symptoms do appear, visit the doctor straightaway for an evaluation.

At what speed does whiplash occur?

Whiplash can occur in any type of accident. It is possible for someone to experience whiplash from the force of a low speed accident, but it is much more likely to happen in a high-speed impact situation. When you are in a car accident, the sudden force can tear and stretch muscles and tendons in your neck. The upper part of the vertebrae in your back are usually the most impacted and affected by a whiplash injury. 

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that whiplash can happen during low-speed accidents. Regardless of the speed at which an accident takes place, the people inside the car still absorb the force from the crash. Even if you are completely stopped, if someone hits you from behind travelling at a slow speed you can still experience a whiplash injury.  

Should I go to the hospital for whiplash?  How long do you have to go to the ER after a car accident?

It could take some time before you experience whiplash symptoms after a car accident. It could take only a few hours or up to several days before whiplash symptoms develop. It is ALWAYS important to get medical attention after an accident.

Ideally, you should see a doctor and seek treatment right after the accident occurs. If that is not possible, see a doctor for an evaluation as soon as you possibly can! This will be a key factor in helping you get fair compensation for your accident related injuries. Here are some common symptoms of whiplash to look out for:

  • Weakness in limbs
  • Pain in your neck
  • Stiffness in your neck
  • Numbness or tingling in your legs, arms and/or shoulders

Your doctor may order additional testing like a CT scan, MRI, or x-rays to determine if you are suffering from whiplash. 

What are neurological signs of whiplash and does whiplash show on an MRI?

Whiplash is not a visible injury, so it can be more difficult to prove. In order to diagnose whiplash injuries, you will want to see a doctor and have a thorough exam. Common symptoms of whiplash can include:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Pain between your shoulder blades or in your shoulders
  • Pain in your lower back
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or pain in your arms or hands
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering

Your doctor will ask you a series of questions and may ask you to perform tasks to determine whether or not you have a whiplash related injury. Here are a few things your doctor will most likely check during an exam:

  • Your reflexes, strength and sensation in your limbs
  • Any tenderness in your back, shoulders or neck
  • The degree of motion that causes you pain or increased pain
  • Your range of motion in your shoulders and neck

Your doctor will most likely order imaging tests to see if there are any other issues causing neck or back pain. Unfortunately, a whiplash injury isn’t necessarily seen on an imaging test.  X-rays, CT scans and MRIs can help your doctor determine the next steps and put together the best treatment plan for you. MRI tests are common because they can show soft tissue injuries and damage to ligaments, disks and the spinal cord. MRIs also show bone related injuries. 

What is the best treatment for whiplash? What happens if you leave whiplash untreated?

Treatment will depend on how severe your whiplash injury is. Common forms of treatment include at-home care, over-the-counter medication, prescription medication, physical therapy and specialized pain treatment.

It’s important to seek treatment and adhere to your doctors’ orders when dealing with whiplash after a car accident, not only because it will improve your condition and lessen the chance of long-term complications, but because you’ll want to be able to effectively demonstrate your injuries on your insurance claim. If you continue to experience pain, your doctor could recommend these treatments to help:

  • Rest for a couple of days. Resting is important, but too much rest may actually delay your recovery from whiplash.
  • Hot and cold applied to your neck. 15 minutes of hot or cold application to the neck every three hours can lessen pain. 
  • OTC pain meds. Pain relievers like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen help with pain management.
  • Prescription meds. If you are experiencing more severe pain, you may be prescribed an antidepressant drug (these have been shown to help relieve nerve pain).
  • Muscle relaxants. This medicine is known to make people feel sleepy.  This may be recommended for short term relief from tight muscles and to help with pain. 
  • Injections. Lidocaine (Xylocaine) is a numbing medicine that can be injected into muscles where you are experiencing pain to help decrease your pain and aid you in doing physical therapy. 
  • Exercises. Stretching and exercises that focus on movement can help you restore range of motion. 
  • Physical therapy. You will work with a therapist who will walk your through different strengthening exercises to help restore your normal range of motion. 
  • A foam neck brace. This can be used to limit your movement right after a whiplash injury.  Wearing a neck brace may help you sleep at night, but recent studies show that keeping your neck still for too long can reduce your muscle strength, which will slow recovery time.  Talk with your doctor about how long to wear a foam neck brace if one is needed. 

Can you go to a chiropractor for whiplash?

Chiropractic treatment can be effective in helping to alleviate whiplash. Each whiplash injury is unique, so the appropriate treatment will be determined during an exam. It is common for chiropractors to treat whiplash using manipulation and other muscle relaxation and stimulations techniques.

Can you still drive with whiplash? 

If you have any stiffness or neck pain that will prevent you from turning your head, you should not be driving. Talk with your doctor regarding any questions you have about whether it is safe for you to be driving.    

Is it safe to sleep after whiplash?

Whiplash can make getting a good night’s sleep a huge challenge. Injuries like whiplash that affect the neck can take a long time to improve. While it can be painful to sleep after whiplash, it is still important to get your rest as this is a key part of the recovery process. Here are some tips on what you can do to help get a good night’s sleep while dealing with whiplash:

  • Neck pillows.  Keeping the neck stable by using a special pillow will help alleviate neck pain.  These special neck pillows can help keep your neck in alignment with your spine and will help easy pain while trying to sleep. 
  • Cold or hot compress.  Right before bed try using a cold or hot compress for about 20 minutes to help ease pain and tension.
  • Foam rollers.  Use a foam roller on your neck right before bed to help with stiffness and tension. 
  • Sleep on your back or side.  By sleeping on your back, you will eliminate the possibility of arching your back in your sleep, which can cause more strain and forces the muscles to work harder.  If you sleep on your side, try placing a pillow between your knees and legs to help keep your spine and neck aligned. 
  • Daily routine.  Stretching the shoulders and neck are also extremely important as you heal.  Make sure you wear comfortable shoes that provide good support.  Use good posture throughout the day…especially if you sit and work at a desk. 

Is it normal for whiplash to get worse? Can whiplash symptoms get worse over time? What are the long-term effects of whiplash?

In most cases, neck pain and stiffness from whiplash is the worst on the day right after an injury. It can get worse for up to several days after an accident. Usually this is a short-term injury, but in some cases, there are people who have symptoms for several months and in some cases, permanently.

Limited mobility and constant discomfort can be extremely taxing for whiplash patients. While many cases of whiplash heal relatively quickly, while approximately 10 percent of patients have a long journey ahead of them and suffer long-lasting neck pain, reports WebMD.

Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing ongoing neck pain and are having trouble with your daily activities. It is easy for people to get depressed or experience anxiety when they have had ongoing symptoms due to whiplash. It can take some time to heal from your injuries. Everyone recovers differently, so be sure to keep the lines of communication open with your doctor and try to stay focused on treatment and healing. 

Filing a Car Accident Claim for Compensation

The treatments for whiplash can be effective, but they can also be extremely pricey. If you sustained whiplash or any other type of injury in a car accident, you may be able to file a claim for compensation to cover your costs. If you are eligible, you can receive restitution for all your injury-related damages, including:

  • medical evaluations and testing;
  • medical treatments;
  • physical therapy;
  • lost wages; and
  • future treatments related to your car accident injuries.

You may also claim damages related to your pain and suffering. The first step to filing a claim is to speak with a local car accident attorney. A lawyer will be able to determine if you have a viable case and then help you take the necessary steps to secure a settlement.

Whiplash can be a disputed injury as some insurers may argue that your condition is not as severe as you are claiming, so legal representation that specifically handles these types of cases can be very helpful when pursuing a claim. To speak with an attorney that represents car accident victims, contact Max Meyers today for a free consultation at 425-399-7000.

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.