Whiplash is a painful neck injury that is caused when the head is thrust forward past the normal range of motion for the muscles, ligaments ,and tendons that support it.
The most common of cause of a whiplash injury is a rear impact of a car while you are stationary in yours. Even if that car is traveling at a mere 15 miles per hour, you can still suffer from a whiplash injury.
What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
Whiplash ranges in severity, with some individuals feeling nothing more than discomfort in the area, while others may be in constant pain with other symptoms. These can include:
Neck Pain: Neck pain or a stiff neck is the result of swelling to the neck region. The over extension of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles will cause the muscle to swell. In some cases this pain is only obvious when you try and move your head or neck.
Headache: While a mild headache after the trauma of a car or other accident should be expected, a severe or persistent headache could be caused by damage to an upper cervical disc. This is known medically as cervicogenic headache and can have symptoms similar to a migraine. Pain will typically radiate upwards from the neck to the front forehead and be so painful as to cause light, sound, and even smell sensitivity.
Shoulder pain: It is estimated that 26% of whiplash patients also suffer pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades. Of those, 5% suffer from an ailment known as impingement syndrome. This is a painful symptom of whiplash that affects the muscles in the rotator cuff of the shoulder.
Dizziness: You could feel periods of dizziness with a whiplash injury. This may be just a feeling of lightheadedness, or it could be vertigo, where you feel as if the room is spinning. It is believed that an interruption of normal blood flow through the neck is responsible for this symptom.
Fatigue: The fatigue felt from a whiplash injury is caused by the chronic pain and disturbances in sleep that pain causes.
Arm pain and weakness: The muscle spasms that occur in the neck muscles after the impact can cause referred pain and tingling to the arms, hands, and fingers. In some cases the cause is a nerve compression that has occurred from a herniated disc.
Visual and Hearing Disturbances: Some patients of whiplash report seeing spots of light, or having a light sensitivity. Ringing, or tinnitus, in the ears is another commonly reported effect of whiplash.
Lower Back Pain: Injury to a disc or the facet joint could radiate down to the lower back. This is a common side effect of whiplash that can leave the patient debilitated after the accident.
Acute cases of whiplash can lead to a syndrome with a number of severe symptoms that are more difficult to define by a physician. These include mood disorders like anger and depression, frustration, anxiety, and acute stress. Patients may also suffer from insomnia and develop a drug dependency to try and cope with the pain.
What to Do if You Suspect You are Suffering from Whiplash
A prompt diagnosis from a physician is the first step towards a full recovery from whiplash. Treatment therapies will vary depending on your symptoms and severity of the injury, but will likely be costly and possibly long term. If the whiplash was caused by an accident that was not your fault, an attorney may be able to help you recover those costs. The most important thing you can do is get treatment as fast as possible before the injury is exacerbated and symptoms worsen. Then speak with an attorney to determine if you have a valid claim for compensation.