Whiplash is a common car accident injury, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. Often, it has painful consequences and may even cause chronic damage. But what is whiplash, what should you do about it, and can you recover compensation when you’ve sustained whiplash after a car accident?
What Is Whiplash and What Causes It?
Whiplash is a sprain or strain to the neck that causes the head to violently snap forward and back after a sudden movement. It’s a common car accident injury, especially in rear-end crashes, as the head lurches forward, resulting in the snapping motion.
When a sudden force causes the head to jerk, such as in a car crash, the soft tissues of the neck extend and stretch. It’s considered a mild condition, but it can cause significant pain and discomfort, even in the long term.
How Do You Know if You Have Whiplash?
Whiplash is easy to miss because the symptoms don’t present immediately. It’s also undetectable on an X-ray, so even if you receive medical treatment at a hospital, you won’t necessarily know if you’ve suffered whiplash. You could feel completely fine after a crash, but whiplash can happen even in minor crashes.
While most whiplash symptoms appear a few days after a crash, it may be months before you start to feel the symptoms.
Whiplash commonly starts with a sore neck, which can be uncomfortable. This might be a dull ache, a sharp pain, or a burning pain. Later, though, it worsens, and you might struggle to turn your head or even walk.
Other common symptoms of whiplash include:
A Numbness or Tingling Sensation in the Arms and Hands
A common symptom of whiplash after a car accident is a numbness or tingling sensation in the arms, hands, and fingers. This happens when the intense pressure on the head during a car crash pinches or damages the nerves in the neck, causing weakness or tingling throughout the shoulder, arm, and hands.
Headaches are also common after a whiplash injury, as the head sustains most of the damage. The intensity and location of pain can vary, from the side of the head, all over, or behind the eyes. According to the International Medical Society of Paraplegia, 60% of patients experience headaches after whiplash.
A concussion is a separate condition that frequently occurs after a car accident, but it’s especially likely to happen after a whiplash injury. A concussion is when a violent blow or shunt causes the brain to rapidly jolt back and forth — exactly what happens to the head during whiplash.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury, albeit a minor one, and the effects are usually temporary. These include blurred vision, confusion, and difficulty concentrating, and they should never be ignored.
Left untreated, a concussion can affect brain function over the long term, cause depression and fatigue, and impair focus and coordination. These can have a lasting impact on an individual and their quality of life, including their relationships and performance at work.
The Long-Term Impact of Whiplash after a Car Accident
Most people who suffer whiplash after a car accident recover after a few days or weeks without further complications or side effects. But in severe cases, it can leave people with chronic pain — even years after the original incident.
Chronic whiplash can cause severe neck pain that spreads into the arms and a loss of motion in the neck. If you’re older, have existing neck or back pain, or have had whiplash before — whether from a car accident, sports injury, or blow to the head — you’re more likely to develop chronic whiplash after a car accident, but it can affect anyone.
What to Do if You Have Whiplash after a Car Accident?
During and immediately after a car accident, your body will produce adrenaline, so even if you have whiplash, you likely won’t immediately notice.
Even if you do feel pain, you may be tempted to “tough it out” to avoid the hassle and cost of seeing a doctor or because you don’t want to complain. However, this will make it harder to prove your injuries if you decide to file a personal injury claim, and you might have injuries that need treatment, which may become more serious if you ignore them.
Early Action Is Crucial
That’s why the first thing you should do after a car accident is to see a doctor. They’ll ask questions about the event and your symptoms and run tests and scans to rule out injuries like broken bones. This is your opportunity to explain the accident and document any injuries you have, whether they’re visible — such as cuts and bruises — or invisible, including disorientation.
While whiplash won’t appear on imaging scans, your doctors will examine your head, neck, and arms to assess your range of motion and reflexes and check for any tenderness.
From here, your doctor may recommend rest, avoiding activities that could aggravate your injuries, and taking over-the-counter medication to reduce swelling and ease discomfort if you experience pain.
Can You Claim Compensation for Whiplash after a Car Accident?
If you have whiplash after a car accident caused by the reckless or negligent actions of another, you may be entitled to compensation.
But a successful compensation claim relies on evidence. Being able to show a clear relationship between the crash and your injuries is crucial. Otherwise, the other party may claim that your whiplash occurred at a later date — not at the time of the accident.
This can make it challenging to claim compensation specifically for whiplash, as symptoms rarely appear immediately. This is especially the case if you have delayed whiplash, where symptoms can take weeks or months to present.
This is why documenting your accident becomes so valuable. By seeing a doctor, you have a record of your early symptoms and injuries — injuries which, if required, a medical expert can testify led to your whiplash.
How Much Compensation Can You Expect to Receive?
If you’re entitled to compensation, the amount you will receive depends on several factors. Compensation is typically broken down into two categories:
Economic damages are the monetary losses you’ve experienced because of your whiplash and accident as a whole. These might include any lost wages due to not being able to work and medical bills. Your medical expenses might be extensive, especially if you have chronic whiplash and need long-term treatment.
Common treatments for whiplash include massage or physical therapy, chiropractic treatments, pain medication, and — in the worst cases — epidural injections to block pain impulses and encourage the tissues to heal. Such treatments can be costly, and you may be entitled to claim these costs as part of your economic damages.
Non-economic damages are subjective, as they are designed to compensate you for pain and suffering, emotional turmoil, and loss of enjoyment.
If you have whiplash after a car accident that causes long-term confusion and memory loss because of concussion, or if you struggle with mobility in your neck and arms even months after your accident, you will likely be entitled to more compensation because it’s had a bigger impact on your life.
Even if you only had minor whiplash that caused you discomfort for a few weeks and then resolved without causing any further problems, you will still be entitled to some damages — even if that’s only the monetary expenses you incurred during your recovery.
To find out how much compensation you could be entitled to, try out our personal injury calculator.
When to Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer
Consulting a personal injury lawyer is one of the first things you should do after seeking medical treatment. A car accident lawyer in San Antonio or McAllen can advise you on whether you have a claim and achieve the best possible settlement on your behalf.
Negotiating with insurance companies is par for the course when filing a personal injury claim. If there’s one thing to know, it’s that insurance companies will do everything they can to pay you as little as possible.
Some of the things they might do include:
- Speaking to you to try to get an admission of guilt (even if you apologize for the accident to be polite, they could use that to argue that you played a large role in the incident)
- Disputing that your injuries happened because of the accident
- Putting pressure on you to accept a low settlement to avoid a lengthy negotiation.
When you work with a personal injury lawyer, they will advise you on whether you could be entitled to a higher settlement offer, collect evidence, and put together the best possible case to get the payout you deserve.
Getting whiplash after a car accident can be painful and distressing, but you could recover damages to support your recovery and help you move forward. Our personal injury lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today by filling in the contact form or calling 855-LAW-NINJA for a free, no-obligation consultation.