Did you know that each year, about 800,000 vehicle crashes in the US result in neck injuries? Experts also estimate that the costs to treat these injuries exceed $5 billion. What’s more, around nine in 10 of these injuries occur following rear-end collisions.
All that makes car accident whiplash injuries among the most common crash outcomes. As if that’s not bad enough, they can occur at speeds as low as two to five miles per hour. These symptoms of these neck injuries can also take time to manifest.
For these reasons, it’s crucial to see a doctor as soon as you can following a car crash, no matter how minor it is. Otherwise, you may think that you’re injury-free, when in fact, you are not. This can then affect your chances of getting compensation if the crash was due to another driver.
To that end, we created this guide detailing the most important facts you need to know about whiplash. Read on to learn how it happens, its symptoms, and what to do about it.
What Whiplash Injury Is and How It Occurs
Whiplash injuries are injuries that damage the cervical (neck) muscles. They can occur when the head gets forced to move back and forth in a rapid, whip-like manner. Its term comes from this high-speed movement that’s similar to a lashed whip.
The forceful, back-and-forth motion can cause partial or complete cervical soft tissue tears. More severe whiplash injuries can affect the neck’s joints, discs, ligaments, and nerves. Extreme cases may also result in fractured or even dislocated bones.
The Effects and Symptoms of Whiplash Injuries
Whiplash injuries jerks and pulls the neck’s muscles and ligaments. This often results in the fibers of the muscles, tendons, or ligaments becoming torn.
Therefore, strains and sprains are among the most common forms of whiplash injuries. Strains refer to torn muscle or tendon fibers, while sprains affect ligaments. Both can result in neck pain, inflammation, soreness, stiffness, and loss of range of motion.
Many other whiplash injury patients also experience dizziness, tinnitus, and fatigue. Tingling (pins-and-needles sensation) or numbness may also spread to the arms. In more severe cases, the pain and soreness can extend to the shoulders, arms, and upper back.
Whiplash injuries that damage nerves can also cause ocular (eye) symptoms. In one study, one in four whiplash patients developed ocular signs, such as blurred vision.
Whiplash injury symptoms usually become noticeable within the first 24 hours. However, the signs can manifest several days or even weeks after the incident.
Outlook for Car Accident Whiplash Injuries
About half of whiplash injury patients recover completely within three to six months. However, most of the recovery phase occurs within the first three months from the time of the injury. After this, healing slows down, which is why it can take up to half a year for a full recovery.
The remaining 50% of car accident whiplash patients can develop a long-term disability. Chronic symptoms often include widespread pain and, in some cases, numbness. Muscle weakness and fatigue are also common long-term signs of whiplash injuries.
Treatments for Car Crash Whiplash Injuries
Resting for no more than a day or two after the crash can help kickstart your recovery. Any longer than this can result in delayed healing, though. Your doctor may also recommend the use of ice packs to help bring down the swelling.
If you can’t tolerate the pain, pain medication can help. For minor cases, over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may suffice. For more severe cases, doctors prescribe antidepressant drugs to relieve nerve pain.
Muscle relaxants may also help unwind tight muscles and stiffness. However, you should only take these for a maximum of three weeks. Experts say these drugs usually lose their effectiveness if used for longer periods.
In addition, long-term use of pain medications can lead to drug dependence. Some of these drugs can also affect mental clarity and make you even more prone to accidents. This is especially true for older adults, as pain relievers can make them dizzy enough for them to slip or fall.
Aside from pain medication, physical rehabilitation and exercises can also help treat whiplash. Special exercises can reduce neck stiffness and increase the neck’s range of motion. They can also help prevent aches and swelling from spreading to other parts of your body.
What to Do if You Think You Have a Car Crash Whiplash Injury
See a doctor as soon as possible, even if you were only in a minor fender bender. Remember: a whiplash injury can already occur in crashes involving vehicle speeds as low as 2 mph. Not experiencing symptoms right away doesn’t mean the injury isn’t there.
What’s more, the longer it takes you to get treatment, the higher your risk of long-term recovery. Whereas prompt treatment can help make your healing time shorter and more efficient. Your doctor can also make sure the crash didn’t result in more severe injuries.
If someone else is behind your injury, consider calling a personal injury attorney. This can help make it easier to prove who caused the car crash (and your injuries). This is especially important if your injuries are severe and may take more than half a year to heal.
Don’t Shrug off Potential Whiplash Injuries
As you can see, car accident whiplash injuries can cause long-term pain and suffering. That’s why it’s essential to visit a doctor as soon as you can after getting into a motor vehicle collision. The sooner you do, the better your prognosis can be.
Besides, you’d need a doctor’s medical report for insurance claims. Without this, you run the risk of not getting compensation for your injuries.
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