Beyond the Immediate Pain: Long-Term Effects of Whiplash You Need To Know

Each year, approximately 841,000 whiplash injuries associated with traffic accidents happen in the US. 

Whiplash is a neck injury that happens when blunt force trauma damages the neck’s soft tissues. This type of car accident injury usually happens from rear-end collisions. 

During a rear-end car accident, the head experiences sudden back-and-forth jerking from the transfer of acceleration-deceleration forces. These forces can exert extreme pressure on the neck, depending on the speed and impact of the collision.   

Whiplash victims can fully recover within three months. However, studies revealed that 50 percent of those injured with whiplash may develop chronic or long-term symptoms. Chronic whiplash can cause profound pain and may significantly disrupt a victim’s quality of life. 

Are you suffering from the long-term effects of whiplash injuries? After a car accident injury like whiplash, consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer is as crucial as getting medical care. 

Learn how to protect your health and rights after a whiplash injury in a motor vehicle crash. The Personal Injury Center offers resources to help you get the legal assistance you need.

Key Takeaways
  • Victims of a whiplash injury may experience long-term effects. If left undiagnosed or untreated for a prolonged period, whiplash can result in permanent disabilities.
  • The long-term effects of whiplash can leave you with financial burdens. It can restrict your work duties or prevent you from returning to work.
  • Seeking prompt medical attention can help you avoid whiplash’s long-term effects and safeguard your rights to compensation.

Common Long-Term Effects of Whiplash After a Car Accident

Whiplash is a type of injury that affects the cervical spine or neck. The varied symptoms it causes are collectively classified as whiplash-associated disorders (WAD)

Symptoms of whiplash often show up within 24 hours after the incident, but others can take months to develop fully. People exhibiting the symptoms several months after the initial injury likely suffer from delayed whiplash. 

Whiplash victims commonly experience short-term neck pain and upper back or shoulder pain. Others may suffer headaches, dizziness, stiffness, or blurred vision temporarily. Although most accident victims don’t experience any long-term effects of whiplash, some symptoms persist or worsen over time. 

The extent of the injury and an individual’s overall health can influence the long-term effects of whiplash. But leaving the short-term pain, discomfort, and other symptoms untreated can also contribute to prolonged and more severe whiplash symptoms. 

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Neurological symptoms

A whiplash injury can cause problems with your spine and nerves. It can cause swelling or inflammation leading to disruption in nerve signals. This disruption can lead to a variety of neurological symptoms. 

In the Quebec classification of WAD, whiplash presenting neurological symptoms is categorized as at least a grade-three injury

Common symptoms of neurological effects may include muscle weakness, prickling sensations, and sensory deficits. These neurological effects may manifest differently for every individual. But generally, they can trigger long-term problems with balance, movement, and coordination. 

Victims exhibiting grade-three whiplash symptoms must be referred to a medical professional to rule out a grade-four injury. Grade-four injury is the highest level of WAD and can leave you with chronic pain and permanent disability. 

Chronic neck pain

The sudden impact in a car crash can cause your neck’s muscles, tendons, and ligaments to stretch and tear. The injury may result in neck pain, usually accompanied by a sensation of tight or knotted muscles. 

The intensity of pain can range from minor discomfort to significant interference with your regular activities or movements. Some whiplash victims may feel pain in one specific spot in the neck that worsens when moving the head. Meanwhile, others may experience ‌aching lower back pain or soreness radiating down the shoulder or arm. 

Neck pain gradually improves over a few weeks for some whiplash victims. However, if severe whiplash is not treated correctly, the risk for chronic pain is higher. It can persist for several months or even years after the initial injury or accident. 

Long-term mobility issues

Whiplash injuries can cause inflammation or swelling in the neck and upper back, leading to stiffness and limited range of motion. Consequently, moving sensitive muscles will be difficult, and you’ll likely experience pain when you turn or crane your neck or head in specific directions. 

If left untreated, a whiplash injury can result in long-term mobility issues and prevent you from performing work duties or everyday tasks. 

Wearing a neck collar may alleviate the pain. However, it can also worsen or prolong the symptoms since it immobilizes the neck for extended periods. Additionally, a range of motion exercises can prevent further stiffening and weakening of the neck muscles.

Chronic headaches

The sudden and forceful back-and-forth motion in a car accident can damage the cervical facet joints. These joints, located on either side of each vertebra in the neck, provide stability and facilitate neck and head movements. 

The resulting damage may cause the nerves in the brainstem and spinal cord to swell and hurt. Whiplash may trigger different headaches depending on the specific nerves the trauma affects. Some headaches are short-term and typically resolve within six to eight weeks, while others are intermittent or constant. 

In most cases, whiplash headaches are described as similar to migraines. It can cause pain in any part of the head, neck, and jaw, accompanied by dizziness or imbalanced sensations. Without proper treatment, headaches after a whiplash injury will likely persist for several months or years. 

Spine misalignment

The abrupt jerking motion causing whiplash on the neck or cervical spine also affects the entire spinal column. If untreated, a part of the spine may move out of its normal position and put pressure on the nerves, resulting in spinal misalignment.

Spine misalignment can disrupt normal communication from the brain to the rest of the body, causing chronic pain and other unpleasant symptoms. Depending on the extent of misalignment, you may experience pinched nerves and tingling sensations in one or more extremities. 

Degenerative disc disease

The physical trauma from an untreated, minor whiplash can exacerbate a preexisting condition like degenerative disc disease. It happens when the discs between your spinal column’s vertebrae deteriorate or wear down over time. 

Normally, the discs between the spine act as shock absorbers. But individuals who experience disc generation lose this ability and are susceptible to damage during a car accident. These force some disc-generative symptoms to emerge, causing recurrent episodes of pain and discomfort, mainly when whiplash is left untreated. 

Psychological effects

Severe whiplash can cause psychological distress. The limitations after a whiplash injury may cause you to feel anxious, scared, or angry. These are typical reactions after an auto accident, and they may ease as whiplash symptoms subside. But not all whiplash victims experience relief. 

Others may suffer from intense anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a whiplash injury. Studies revealed that depression and PTSD symptoms persist for up to 12 months after a whiplash injury. 

The psychological impact of whiplash can be disabling as physical injuries. It becomes challenging or almost impossible for whiplash victims to function at work or carry out their day-to-day activities. 

How can the long-term effects of whiplash affect your life?

Although often labeled as a minor injury, whiplash’s long-term effects can significantly impact the victim’s health and quality of life. Those with more serious injuries may face a lifetime of pain and disability. 

However, victims can seek compensation from the party responsible for the accident and their whiplash injuries. Suppose you sustain a severe whiplash injury and experience its long-term effects. You can expect to receive substantial economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic damages compensate you for the direct monetary losses you incurred due to your injuries. Meanwhile, non-economic damages account for the pain and suffering you endured from the whiplash injury. 

An experienced personal injury lawyer will be essential when determining the full extent of your damages. Likewise, understanding how the long-term effects of whiplash can disrupt your life will also provide insights into the compensation you’re entitled to recover. 

Besides the physical and mental pain, chronic whiplash can cause the following burdens: 

High medical treatment costs

Chronic whiplash can persist for several years. Some long-term effects of whiplash are manageable with home remedies and over-the-counter pain medications. But most cases will require ongoing and future medical treatment to restore the normal movement of the neck. 

Prolonged physical therapy, medications, epidural injections, and other pain management modalities are some of the usual treatments for severe whiplash. Spinal surgery may be necessary for more serious injuries. 

The costs of these medical treatments can pile up quickly, resulting in higher medical expenses that may strain your finances. 

Loss of income and reduced earning capacity

The long-term effects of whiplash may prevent you from working or restrict your capacity to work in the future. 

The effects can be much more significant if you’re working in construction, which requires physical labor and regular movement. You may need to take time off from work while recovering, causing you to lose income. 

Depending on your injury’s severity, chronic whiplash may prevent you from returning to work full-time or resuming your previous job. Around 15 percent of whiplash victims experienced reduced working capability because of ongoing disability. This limitation can result in substantial financial losses due to reduced or loss of earning capacity. 

Ongoing pain and suffering

Accident victims who experience the long-term effects of whiplash are more likely to suffer from ongoing pain and suffering

Besides the physical pain and soreness, you may experience sleep disturbances, mental anguish, and emotional distress. Severe whiplash injuries may also prevent you from engaging in certain activities, resulting in loss of enjoyment and diminished quality of life. 

Although these subjective losses don’t have a direct monetary value, they can harm your health and well-being. Moreover, you are entitled to recover compensation for these losses. 

Ways To Maximize Your Compensation for Whiplash

Insurers are often skeptical of whiplash injuries and their long-term effects. As a result, they may minimize the value of a whiplash victim’s claim. The following are a few steps you can take to ensure you receive maximum compensation for whiplash injury and its long-term impact. 

Seek medical care right away

Refusing or delaying medical care can hurt your chances of receiving maximum compensation. Insurance companies may argue the accident did not cause your whiplash injury or that delays in your medical treatment exacerbate your injuries. Additionally, insurers will use those arguments to reduce or minimize the value of your whiplash settlement. 

In contrast, by seeking prompt medical attention, a doctor or chiropractor can confirm your whiplash injury from the onset. They can provide statements and documentation to support your claim, increasing the likelihood of receiving maximum compensation. 

Stick to the prescribed treatment plan

The insurance company may use your noncompliance with the treatment plan to reduce or deny your claim. They will look into your willingness to recover from your whiplash injury. 

Suppose you constantly miss appointments with your doctor or refuse to follow the prescribed medical treatment. The insurers will use it to argue that your injuries are not serious or you’re not doing everything you can to recover. Moreover, they will use it as grounds to reduce or deny your claim.  

Hence, adhering to the doctor’s recommendation and treatment plan is equally vital as seeking prompt medical help. 

Secure relevant physical evidence

Physical evidence is crucial to substantiate your whiplash claim. Secure any evidence or documentation related to your car accident and whiplash injuries. Below are some documents that establish the extent of your whiplash injury and prove its resulting losses. 

  • Medical documentation, such as diagnostic tests, doctor’s visit records, and treatment plans
  • Photos or video footage of the accident scene
  • Accident reports from the police
  • Receipts for repair costs for the property damage on your motor vehicle
  • Receipts for hospital bills and medical treatments, and other out-of-pocket expenses

Keep a daily accident journal 

Maintaining a daily record of your experiences can help demonstrate the ongoing effects of a whiplash injury. You can write down the symptoms you’re experiencing and how the long-term effects of whiplash limit your daily activities. Keeping track of your pain and medications will also help quantify the emotional distress the injury is causing you. 

Get legal help from a personal injury lawyer

Negotiating a fair settlement for whiplash injuries can be a challenging process. It’s advisable to have an experienced personal injury lawyer by your side. They know how to handle negotiations with insurers and help you understand your legal options. 

While you focus on recovering, they can investigate, collect essential evidence, and ensure you receive the compensation necessary for your treatment. With an attorney on your side, you can have better peace of mind, knowing they will fight for your rights from start to finish.

Did you know?

Wearing a seatbelt helps reduce serious car crash-related injuries and fatalities. In 2020, 51 percent of the 23,824 passenger vehicle occupants who died in a crash weren’t wearing a seatbelt.

Dealing With the Long-Term Effects of Whiplash? Hire a Lawyer

Whiplash victims may file a claim against the negligent party in a car accident. But proving the severity and long-term effects of whiplash is often challenging without the help of an attorney. Even with medical proof, you’ll need an experienced lawyer to convince the insurer of your whiplash injury and its long-term impact. 

Finding an attorney you can trust is now easier with The Personal Injury Center. We offer free online case evaluation. Discuss your case with us today, and we’ll connect you with a reliable car accident lawyer in your area. 

Find a lawyer for your whiplash injury at The Personal Injury Center. Contact us now for a free assessment of your case. 

FAQs on Long-Term Effects of Whiplash

It’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of whiplash and other neck injuries in a car crash. But you can reduce your chances of sustaining a whiplash injury by taking precautions. Consider the following measures to protect your neck from whiplash injuries in a car accident:

  • Wear a seatbelt to remain safe during a collision and ensure the head restraint alights with your head. 
  • Position the headrest at eye level or approximately nine centimeters down from the top of the head. 
  • Observe the appropriate posture by sitting upright and adjusting the steering wheel to align it with your face.

Treatments available for the long-term effects of whiplash depend on the severity of the injury. Generally, it may include pain management, immobilization, physical therapy, movement exercises, and medications.

Every state has a statute of limitations for filing a whiplash claim. It's the period you must claim damages for your injuries and losses. In most states, you typically have two to four years from the date of the incident to pursue a case and recover compensation.