Whiplash is a neck injury caused by a sudden change in movement speed or direction. 

Whiplash affects more than 2 million Americans each year and is commonly caused by car crashes. While car crashes are a primary cause of whiplash, it can also arise from any sudden and jarring physical activity — such as a slip and fall incident.  

Here’s how recovering from whiplash can impact you physically, emotionally, and financially. 

What is whiplash?

Whiplash occurs when the neck and upper spine experience sudden motion changes, and movement in any direction can cause whiplash. 

For example, when you’re in a moving car and sudden brakes are applied — your body continues forward despite the vehicle halting. In a rear-end collision, the body is propelled forward while the head remains behind, causing hyperextension of the neck. Then, in a split second, the neck catches up with the head, resulting in flexion. This process happens so rapidly that you may not immediately realize what has transpired until the pain sets in. 

The sharper and stronger the movement, the greater the force on your neck. However, many whiplash injuries from vehicle crashes occur at speeds as low as 5 to 10 mph

Whiplash injuries can vary in severity, from minor to severe. In severe cases, whiplash can fracture the vertebrae in your neck, posing a risk of spinal cord and nerve damage. 

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

After a car crash, whiplash symptoms usually appear within a few hours. However, in some cases, it may take a few days or longer for symptoms and pain to become noticeable. 

Over time, you might experience stiffness, tenderness, and pain in your head, face, shoulder, and back. Muscle spasms can make simple movements challenging, and physical signs like bruising, swelling, and sensitivity to touch may appear. 

Whiplash can also cause neurological symptoms due to inflammation that disrupts nerve signals. Symptoms may include muscle weakness, numbness in the neck and upper body, burning or tingling sensations, headaches, vision problems, hoarseness or loss of voice, difficulty swallowing, and dizziness. 

Whiplash can affect anyone, regardless of age. However, older adults are more prone to serious injuries due to age-related muscle and bone deterioration. 

Prioritize your well-being by getting a thorough medical examination if you suspect any neck, shoulder, or upper back injury. Persistent pain could signal a more severe injury, so a professional evaluation is necessary.  

Don’t delay seeking medical attention — early detection and treatment can greatly impact your recovery. 

What damages can you recover for?

If you suffer from a whiplash injury, you may have the right to seek both economic and non-economic damages.  

Economic damages can encompass medical expenses, such as doctor’s fees, rehabilitation costs, therapy, and medication, as well as any lost wages if your injury prevents you from working. In some cases, ongoing care may be needed to address chronic issues caused by whiplash. Treatments can include physical therapy, and spine surgery may also be considered as an option. Non-economic damages can account for the mental anguish and emotional suffering you endure due to your injury. 

To build a strong personal injury case and demonstrate how a car collision impacted your life, we recommend gathering medical and pharmaceutical records as compelling evidence. Collect records from emergency room visits, doctor office visits, chiropractic care, neurologist records, physical therapist records, and orthopedic surgeon records. Keep track of pharmaceutical records and over-the-counter medicine receipts for pain management and treatment. Also, gather pre-crash medical records to establish no pre-existing neck injury or condition.  

To determine the full value of your case, we recommend consulting with legal professionals who can assess your unique story and help get your life back to normal. 

The majority of the information for this article was sourced from John Hopkins Medicine. Please consult with your doctor(s) before making any medical decisions.