What Is a Whiplash Injury and What Causes It?

Published on Apr 13, 2022 at 6:48 am in Car Accidents.
What Is a Whiplash Injury and What Causes It?

Research published by the Spine Research Institute of San Diego suggests that as many as 3 million individuals suffer whiplash each year in the U.S.

While some consider whiplash a relatively minor, “shake it off” type of injury, it’s not. While many individuals who receive such a diagnosis suffer temporary minor discomfort or functional impairments, a whiplash’s impact can be far more serious and lingering for some.

We’ll tackle various factors, including what causes whiplash injuries, how individuals who receive such a diagnosis can expect to feel, and details about ways such a condition can impact a patient long-term below.

What Is a Whiplash Injury?

A whiplash injury is caused by the violent thrusting of an individual’s neck frontwards and backward.

This forceful motion of one’s head back and forth can affect various body parts, including:

  • Neck, shoulder, and upper back muscles, tendons and ligaments
  • Nerves
  • Spinal bones and the disks between them

How Does a Whiplash Injury Occur?

This injury generally results from someone’s involvement in a motor vehicle accident and, more specifically, a rear-end crash. However, it can also be caused by physical abuse, falls, contact sports incidents, and other traumatic situations.

Initial Signs of a Whiplash Injury

Whiplash injury symptoms generally set in within a matter of hours or days following an auto accident or other traumatic event. Some of the earliest signs of problems that patients notice are isolated to the neck and include:

  • Complete loss or limited range of motion
  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Stiffness

Additionally, our Gulfport car accident attorneys have seen where some non-neck-related peripheral symptoms that clients who ultimately come to be diagnosed with whiplash experience include:

  • Upper back or shoulder tenderness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches originating at the lower portion of the skull
  • Tiredness
  • Numbness, tenderness, or tingling along the arms

Although rarer, some people may experience symptoms such as the following after having suffered a whiplash injury:

  • Behavioral health concerns, such as memory issues, challenges concentrating, depression, or irritability
  • Low back pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Challenges concentrating

Whiplash symptoms sometimes overlap with ones associated with life-threatening conditions. This is why you must get checked out by a physician to ensure that you haven’t suffered serious harm that requires further immediate action.

How Do Doctors Hone in on a Whiplash Diagnosis?

Your doctor will generally inquire about the symptoms that you’re experiencing before initiating a physical exam. You can expect your doctor to assess the following when performing their examination:

  • Where pain and tenderness along your shoulders, back, or neck is most pronounced
  • Your neck and shoulders’ overall range of motion
  • Sensations in, strength among, and reflexology of your limbs

Your doctor may also order imaging studies such as X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI to confirm their diagnosis. This imaging can aid physicians in determining whether there are any vascular issues, fractures, or other life-altering or potentially deadly injuries that require surgical intervention or alternate treatment approaches than the ones commonly used in treating whiplash.

What Is the Typical Course of Treatment for Whiplash Patients?

Physicians often initially focus on alleviating whiplash patients’ pain or discomfort and restoring their typical range of motion. The treatment plan that doctors may initially recommend to facilitate a patient’s healing in these respects may include:

  • Recommending that their patients rest for the initial 24-48 hours following their injury
  • Prescribing muscle relaxers, painkillers, and even antidepressants to help their patients weather their discomfort
  • Applying cold or hot compresses on your neck every couple of hours
  • Urging you to take over-the-counter pain relievers to quell the pain
  • Administering a numbing medication by injection directly into the muscle

Your doctor’s goal in ordering this treatment plan is likely to reduce swelling and pain enough so that you can take part in physical therapy. Your doctor will probably also ask you to perform range of motion exercises at home to ensure no further tightening of your neck occurs as your swelling and pain subsides.

What Prognosis Do Whiplash Patients Have?

Individuals who suffer whiplash can generally expect to not feel like their typical selves for a few weeks following the onset of their injury. Some may suffer for months or never see their symptoms subside. Patients that are most apt to experience residual pain and range of motion issues are:

  • Those injured in a high-speed accident
  • Seniors and elderly individuals
  • Immobile individuals (doctors recommend not to spend too much time on bedrest)
  • Anyone who’s previously suffered whiplash or simply neck, shoulder, and back injuries before

Of the handful of patients who do suffer long-term complications from their whiplash, most experience:

  • Lingering nerve pain, resulting in discomfort and tingling in their neck, shoulder, upper back, and arms
  • Localized paralysis along the torso, shoulders, face, and arms
  • Tension headaches or migraines
  • Functional limitations, most notable when grabbing, stretching, and reaching

Options Available if Whiplash Has Affected Your Life

Whiplash is one of many cervical acceleration-deceleration injuries that can leave motorists with significant discomfort and functionality issues that impact their quality of life. In some cases, this type of injury can change the course of a motorist’s life permanently as well.

You don’t have to accept that injuries come with the territory when you choose to operate a vehicle. You can hold a motorist who you can prove was negligent liable for the injuries that you suffered. You can assign a monetary value to your wasted time. You can then request a settlement that covers both that amount and any other money you lost in having to deal with your accident-related injuries.

Here at Corban Gunn, Attorney at Law, we specialize in aggressively advocating for our clients’ rights. Let us review your case to see if we can help you recoup some of the financial losses you’ve suffered because of your involvement in a serious auto accident.



If you can’t call us, fill out the form below. Our initial case evaluations for personal injury cases are always free. No strings attached.