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Long-Term Effects of Whiplash

man with whiplash injury holding his neck after a rear-end collision with a female driver

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries in motor vehicle accidents. It occurs when the head is jolted forward and then snaps back, or severely rotates to the side. This ‘whipping’ motion is common in many different types of road accidents, including:

If you suspect that you suffered whiplash, it is important to have the injury diagnosed promptly and take steps to reduce your recovery time. See your GP as soon as possible and abide by all care instructions.

You should also speak to a lawyer about your legal rights. You may be entitled to compensation through a TAC accident claim.

What Is Whiplash, Exactly?

Whiplash is an injury to the soft tissue in the neck. Medically it is known as a cervical acceleration-deceleration injury, or CAD.

The sudden movement that occurs with CAD can damage the soft tendons, ligaments and muscles in your neck as a result of being stretched beyond their typical range of motion. Even the typically sturdy shock absorber discs between the vertebrae in your neck can be torn and potentially rupture due to the force of a whiplash injury.

Vehicles do not need to be travelling at a high rate of speed for accident victims to suffer whiplash. Research shows that a whiplash injury can occur in a rear-end collision at speeds as low as 8 km/h.

Although most commonly associated with car accidents (particularly rear-end collisions), whiplash can be caused by any type of trauma that results in sudden acceleration and deceleration of the neck and head. This can include everything from contact sports and amusement park rides to falls and physical attacks.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Whiplash?

Pain and tenderness in the neck are the most common symptoms of whiplash immediately following an accident. In the short term, victims of whiplash may also experience:

  • Difficulty moving the neck
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the upper back, shoulders and arms
  • Loss of feeling or a tingling sensation in the arms
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision

Some victims of whiplash may also suffer dizziness, trouble concentrating, memory issues, feelings of irritability and sleep disturbances. Bruising and swelling may also be present at the site of the neck injury.

How Long Does Whiplash Last?

Generally, the worst symptoms of whiplash will subside within a few days while range of motion may be restored within a few weeks. Pain and stiffness in the neck can persist for several months.

Timely medical care is essential for controlling whiplash symptoms and restoring function. Your doctor will likely recommend rest, stretching exercises and medications to relieve pain and relax the muscles. You may also need to wear a foam cervical collar for a time so your muscles and other soft tissue can heal. Physiotherapy may be necessary as well.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Whiplash?

Whiplash that lasts for over 6 months is usually referred to as chronic whiplash. Chronic whiplash can lead to a host of different problems, and the symptoms may never disappear completely. Symptoms of chronic whiplash may include:

  • Chronic pain and stiffness in the neck or shoulders
  • Upper or lower back pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Constant weariness
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Travel anxiety
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs

A severe whiplash injury can also lead to osteoarthritis, a condition where the deterioration of joints leads to pain, inflammation and loss of mobility in the neck. Research published in The Open Orthopaedics Journal concluded that ‘osteoarthritis in the cervical spine, and whiplash injury with chronic problems cause a significantly decreased cervical range of movement with a higher pain score. Patients with shorter duration of whiplash symptoms appear to do better in the long-term.’

The force involved in a whiplash injury can also fracture the spine. Over time, this can result in spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that can lead to widespread pain, weakness and loss of mobility.

How Common Are the Long-Term Effects of Whiplash?

The severity of a whiplash injury plays a major role in how long the symptoms will last. Most people who experience long-term effects of whiplash are those who have been in a more serious accident where the pain is more severe and difficulty moving the head and neck is more pronounced.

A study by the journal BMC Public Health compared the long-term effects of whiplash on patients with severe whiplash injuries to patients with less significant whiplash trauma. Five years on, nearly 40% of patients with severe whiplash reported feeling dissatisfaction with their health and quality of life.

What If I Feel Fine After the Accident?

Despite the potential seriousness of a whiplash injury, symptoms do not always arise immediately. It can take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours to 2 or 3 days for the injury to become apparent.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make after a motor vehicle accident, a sports injury or any other event where you may have sustained whiplash is to put off getting treatment. Failure to take a whiplash injury seriously increases your risk of complications and may result in negative long-term effects.

Can I Make a Claim for a Whiplash Injury?

If you suffer whiplash in a car accident or other transport-related collision, you should lodge a claim with the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) as soon as possible. No-fault accident benefits can help pay for necessary medical care for whiplash, including costs related to:

  • Visits to your GP, the emergency department and any other medical professionals involved in your care
  • Medical imaging
  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications
  • Cervical collars and any other basic medical equipment necessary for your recovery
  • Physiotherapy
  • Allied health services, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, etc.
  • Massage therapy and myotherapy (if recommended by your doctor)

Read More: What Medical Expenses Does TAC Cover?

You may be advised to take time off work while recovering from whiplash, or the seriousness of the injury may prevent you from working. In either case, TAC can provide income support benefits to help make up for your lost wages.

Finally, you may be entitled to additional compensation if (a) the transport accident occurred through the fault of another AND (b) it is determined that your whiplash constitutes a ‘serious injury’ as recognised by the TAC. A knowledgeable TAC accident lawyer can help you obtain a Serious Injury Certificate and provide guidance at every stage of your claim.

Suffering from the Long-Term Effects of Whiplash?
Contact a TAC Accident Lawyer Today!

Whiplash is often mistakenly assumed to be a ‘minor’ injury. Even qualified medical professionals don’t always take whiplash as seriously as they should.

Mounting evidence shows that whiplash can have serious, long-term adverse effects on a person’s health and quality of life. Henry Carus + Associates can help if you suffered whiplash injury in a motor vehicle accident.

You Deserve More. Our firm is committed not only to maximising your accident benefits but exploring all of the additional avenues for compensation that may be available to you.

We are further distinguished by our Medical + Like Support Service. If TAC has denied payment for your medical care and like services or your benefits have been abruptly cancelled, our accident lawyers will seek to get your benefits paid at no cost to you.

Please call Henry Carus + Associates at 03 9001 1318 today for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our TAC accident lawyers serve clients in Melbourne and throughout VIC.