Victims of car accidents often suffer cervical (neck) strain known as “whiplash.” A whiplash injury can occur as a result of both a low speed and a high speed collision. Whiplash most often occurs in rear-end collisions. Neck injuries, including whiplash, occur because the sudden force of a vehicle impact causes the occupant to decelerate rapidly, moving the neck past its normal range of motion. The crash victim’s head moves forward, then backward, very quickly, and unexpectedly.
Treatment for whiplash can be described as a neck injury to the soft tissue of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the neck. A whiplash neck injury, also described as a cervical strain or sprain, is considered a hypertension neck injury. Pain in the cervical area, which is often severe, is a common symptom of whiplash injury. Other symptoms include muscle spasms, headaches, neck pain, sleep disturbance, tight muscles, low back pain, tenderness in the back of the neck, poor memory, pain in the shoulders, fatigue, dizziness, vision problems, ringing in the ears, limited range of motion, and shooting pain in the arms.
If left untreated, some cervical injuries may worsen over time. Regardless of the severity of the accident, emergency medical personnel should be contacted. They can properly assess whether you should be taken to a medical hospital, or if you should simply follow-up with a doctor within a few days of the accident. If paramedics transport you to the hospital, they will likely use a neck brace for stability. Once the injured person arrives at the hospital, the doctor will examine the victim’s head, neck, and face for injuries. X-rays may be taken. After evaluating pain and tender spots, the doctor will check motor function of the arms and legs. Depending on the results of these tests, the doctor may order a MRI to further diagnose a possible C-spine injury.
Treatment for whiplash often includes ice packs, a neck brace, prescriptions for muscle relaxants and pain relievers, limitation of physical activity, ultrasound, and physical therapy. The neck brace will stabilize and immobilize the cervical spine and surrounding tissues, which will help the injury heal quicker. Physical therapy will allow small controlled movements to slowly re-strengthen the neck under medical supervision. Some accident victims may require surgery if there is still pain after attempting the above treatments or if there is evidence of a disk herniation or other injury of the cervical spine.
Soft tissue injuries of the neck take time to heal, typically at least three to six months. Unfortunately, some victims suffer chronic pain resulting from a whiplash injury. If you are in pain more than six months after your car accident, you may have injuries affecting the nerve roots, intervertebral disks, or facet joints. Nerve root damage is caused by compression of the spinal vertebrae or herniated discs that compress the nerve roots. A more severe root injury may feel differently from whiplash because there is often increased weakness and numbness in the arms and legs.
You may not realize you have whiplash immediately because onset of symptoms may be delayed. Once you realize you may have a whiplash injury, it is crucial that you seek medical treatment and contact an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney.