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What you should do to treat your pain and preserve your legal case
Most car accidents are traumatic on your body – a 30 MPH car accident without a seatbelt has the same force on your body as falling off a three-story building.
With that type of force involved, it is no shock that one of most common injuries after a car accident is whiplash.
Whiplash is the injury and resulting medical problem caused in car accidents by fast, powerful movements of the head from front to back and side to side. The pain in some whiplash cases can be all-encompassing and last for quite some time.
But did you know that right after your car accident, you might feel perfectly fine? It’s common for people who suffered a whiplash injury not to feel much of anything in the first few hours after a car accident.
The body's chemicals can mask injuries
Your body floods with adrenaline and endorphins right after a crash. This surge of chemicals coursing through your body might make you feel fine, but that doesn't mean you are.
Some signs of whiplash include but are not limited to:
- Neck pain or stiff neck
- Shoulder stiffness and pain
- Jaw pain
- Arm pain
You should be seen by a medical professional right away to determine if a diagnosis of whiplash is appropriate.
How whiplash is diagnosed
A doctor will examine you and ask about any pain that you are feeling. Based upon this exam, the doctor may take X-Rays to see if any injuries are obvious. He may also fit you with a cervical collar to support your head and reduce the risk of further injury.
If your X-Rays come back normal but your neck and head ache, your doctor may ask you to keep wearing the cervical collar and to come back later for an additional exam.
At that time, he may order new X-Rays, an MRI or "dynamic X-Rays," which involve leaning the head forward and backward.
If he diagnoses you with whiplash, he will recommend appropriate treatment.
How to treat whiplash
Treatment for whiplash can vary depending on the types of symptoms you’re feeling. Most importantly, you need to obtain plenty of education about a whiplash injury. Understand that it’s a real injury, and most patients do fully recover with enough time.
The most common whiplash treatment for many years was placing a soft cervical collar around the neck to reduce the patient's range of motion and to prevent additional injury.
Most clinical studies indicate that this treatment does little good and could be harmful; in fact, it might actually slow your body’s healing process.
On the contrary, modern medical research finds that keeping the neck moving – in limited fashion as comfort allows – is actually better than immobilization.
Canadian researchers found that different strategies after injury affected recovery time. For example, people with whiplash who stopped being active and socializing had a much slower recovery from pain symptoms.
On the other hand, people who kept moving and were active generally recovered from their injury faster. A combination of activity, gentle stretching and periods of rest with a cervical collar has been found to lead to recovery the fastest.
Range of motion exercises help
Patients who do head and neck range of motion exercises early in treatment usually have a faster recovery. Please keep in mind that you should not do any of the exercises in the above link (or any exercises at all) unless directed by your health care professional.
Research indicates that resting too much and immobilizing the neck can actually prolong symptoms of whiplash. This may be because losing range of motion in the neck leads to more stiffness and pain.
Immobilizing the head and neck also can cause the neck muscles to atrophy. This reduces blood flow to the injured tissues, which then leads to damaged muscles being healed in a contracted state. This makes the neck less flexible and more painful.
Getting help – who do you turn to?
A good physical therapist can help you to strengthen your neck muscles and increase range of motion after a car accident. Your doctor (or your personal injury attorney, if you have retained one) will be able to provide you with a good physical therapist referral in order to start a whiplash treatment program.
Your doctor may also recommend that you visit a chiropractor for treatment of your whiplash symptoms.
A chiropractor may use manual spinal manipulation to improve your range of motion and eliminate pain. Chiropractors believe that manual manipulation can be very effective to minimize the long-term effects of whiplash.
Your chiropractor may also recommend massage therapy, exercise and trigger point therapy to reduce symptoms.
Legal considerations for whiplash injuries
Getting an immediate medical diagnosis and treatment for your whiplash is absolutely essential. Once you have been diagnosed by a doctor, you should consider legal action if the accident was because of the negligence of another driver. Find a personal injury attorney using our Law Firms Directory.
You will want to start the legal process as soon as possible. If your state allows you to file suit for personal injuries from a car accident, you should write to the other party’s insurance carrier. Inform the company of your injuries and intent to file suit. You could also retain a personal injury attorney to handle it for you.
Don't wait to file a whiplash claim or lawsuit. Your injuries may worsen, you may feel more pain, and you will have to wait longer to be compensated.
The sooner you file a claim, the sooner your medical bills will be covered by the insurance company.
Thinking to bring a legal claim or lawsuit for your whiplash injury? There may be legal concepts you should know about. Read up in our Personal Injury Basics guide. Here are a few highlights:
- The claims process and how long a personal injury lawsuit takes
- Is there a time limit for personal injury compensation claims? (Statute of limitations)
- Shared fault rules
- Fault vs. no fault in a personal injury case
- Limits/caps on damages and what this could mean for your personal injury case
- When do you need a lawyer?
- Steps to an insurance claim settlement
Want more information about treating whiplash? You always should be seen by a doctor if you suspect you have an injury, but in the meantime:
- Try these whiplash pain relieving tips at home
- Can’t get a good night’s sleep? Check out these pillow recommendations for people with whiplash pain
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.