Whiplash typically happens when the seatbelt of your vehicle keeps your body in place while your head is forcefully thrown forward and then backward. The forceful motion stretches the joints, ligaments and muscles in your neck farther and faster than is healthy and damages the soft tissues of your neck.
Whiplash may be mild or severe, such as a spinal cord injury. It can have lasting effects, including pain and impaired mobility. There also may be significant financial costs associated with whiplash. These costs include getting medical treatment and losing the ability to work and earn wages.
Car Accidents and Other Causes of Whiplash Injuries
According to the North American Spine Society, whiplash refers to the cause of the injury and the name of the injury itself. The Spine Society indicates that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of whiplash injuries. Also, whiplash is most likely to result from a rear-end crash. However, the Spine Society also indicates that whiplash injuries can happen in head-on and side-impact collisions as well.
While car accidents are the most common cause of whiplash injuries, other events or incidents that force the neck out of alignment can also cause whiplash. Physical abuse and sporting activities are both potential whiplash causes. PubMed reports that whiplash is common in infants suffering from shaken baby syndrome.
Symptoms of Whiplash
Whiplash symptoms typically don’t occur until about 24 hours or more after your accident. It may take time for you to feel the pain and discomfort of the overstretched soft tissues in your neck. When the symptoms do appear, the Mayo Clinic indicates that whiplash victims may experience:
- Discomfort and stiffness in the neck
- Headaches (with the pain originating in or centered in the base of the skull)
- Blurred vision
- Exhaustion or excessive fatigue
- Problems concentrating
- Memory problems
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Sleep problems
In some cases, the pain may spread to your shoulder or your arms. You may experience tingling, numbness or weakness or you may have pain when you move your head. If these symptoms occur, getting emergency medical treatment is essential.
The North American Spine Society reports that most of these symptoms will go away on their own within a few weeks or a few months. Only minor treatment may be required, such as pain therapy or chiropractic care.
Unfortunately, approximately one out of three patients will not fully recover from whiplash. They will experience ongoing pain. For most people who do experience ongoing pain, it is normally intermittent and mild.
For some, however, ongoing whiplash symptoms will persist and cause constant and severe pain. The North American Spine Society indicates that approximately 10 percent of people who experience whiplash after a car accident will have severe chronic neck pain.
Typically, if your whiplash symptoms have not gone away within six months, you will fall into either the group with occasional but chronic pain or into the group with a severe ongoing neck issue.
Treating Whiplash Injuries
One of the challenges associated with whiplash is that there are no conclusive medical tests that prove you have developed whiplash or that show the extent of neck damage.
For this reason, auto insurance companies are sometimes reluctant to approve settlements or pay claims arising from whiplash injuries. Having an experienced Rhode Island accident lawyer is important so you can get the compensation you deserve.
Because there is no conclusive test to prove you have whiplash, doctors will normally make this diagnosis using a process of elimination. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs may be performed to rule out other possible causes of neck pain.
Once you have been diagnosed with whiplash, there are some limited treatment options available. These include:
- Prescription pain medications
- Injections of powerful drugs, including a numbing medication called lidocaine (which also goes by the brand name Xylocaine)
- Muscle relaxants
- Physical therapy, including exercises to strengthen and stretch the neck muscles
- Applying heat or ice to relieve pain
- Ultrasound therapy
- The use of foam collars or cervical collars to immobilize the neck
These treatments manage the symptoms of whiplash but are not a cure. If your whiplash does not resolve itself within six months, then you will typically have to do whatever you can to manage the pain, which may persist for years.
Compensation for Whiplash Injuries
In the U.S., the estimated cost for treating whiplash injuries is $29 billion per year. These costs are astronomical. People injured in car crashes are left to cope with the financial and emotional pain of whiplash.
When a whiplash injury occurs, the driver who was responsible for causing the injury should pay for the consequences. To recover compensation, the injured victim who is suffering from whiplash will need to show that the driver was negligent or unreasonably careless and that this carelessness caused the crash.
Because most whiplash cases result from rear-end collisions, it is usually assumed that the driver in the rear was responsible for the crash and thus responsible for the whiplash.
The challenge in many whiplash cases is not in proving that the other party was at fault but instead to prove that the injury is real and to demonstrate the extent of the injury.
An experienced Rhode Island whiplash lawyer can help you to do everything possible to build a strong case so you can get a fair settlement or an appropriate damage award from a jury.
Contact a Rhode Island Whiplash Lawyer Today
If you are suffering from whiplash after an auto accident, contact the Rhode Island whiplash lawyers of Gemma Law Associates, Inc., today. We represent whiplash sufferers across Rhode Island. We can represent clients from Providence, Pawtucket, Newport, Warwick, Cranston, Bristol or Woonsocket. If you’re an out-of-state driver injured in Rhode Island, we can help you, too.