Whiplash is a neck injury that happens often after auto accidents. It is caused by a sudden backward-and-forward motion of the neck during the impact of a crash. Whiplash can stress and strain muscles in the neck and cause damage to spinal discs, joints or nerves. What’s more, it can take time for the symptoms of whiplash to show up after an accident.
Since whiplash can be a complicated injury, it’s best to understand why you may not notice its symptoms right away. If you are filing an insurance claim for damages, you may also face pushback from the insurance company about a whiplash injury. Below, we’ll cover what you need to know.
What Does It Mean to Have Whiplash From an Accident?
Having whiplash can mean damage to the muscles, ligaments, discs or nerve roots in your neck or spine. Whiplash can show up in a number of ways, so it’s important to pay close attention to any changes in your body. You will need to understand the symptoms and causes of whiplash from an accident.
Some common signs of whiplash are:
- Pain and stiffness in the neck
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Lower back pain
- Sudden and intense headaches
- Trouble focusing, concentrating or remembering things
- Fatigue or irritability
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Numbness or pain in your hands or arms
As you can see, the signs of whiplash may vary quite a bit. All of them can result from damage or strain to your neck or spine after an accident. Whiplash is often tricky to recognize right away because it can take time to fully develop.
How Long Does It Take for Whiplash to Show Up After an Accident?
It can take whiplash days, weeks or sometimes even months to fully develop after an accident. There are a few reasons for this:
- Your body is in fight-or-flight mode right after an accident. It releases pain-suppressing hormones like adrenaline that may hide pain until they have balanced out
- After the initial impact, your muscles, discs or nerves may take time to settle and develop more pain
- The injuries may swell up more in the days after an accident, putting pressure on your neck and spine
The late onset of whiplash pain can be a problem if you did not cause your accident and plan to file a personal injury claim. Insurance companies are already looking for ways to pay you less or deny your claim, so you will need proof of your injuries. This can be hard to provide if you don’t feel whiplash right away.
For this reason, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible after your accident. Tell them about any pain or changes you feel, and go back if something else develops with time. Your doctor will know the signs of whiplash, and early detection can help prevent more serious conditions later.
How Is Whiplash Diagnosed and Treated?
Whiplash does not typically show up on standard imaging tests like x-rays. Your doctor will likely ask you questions about the pain and may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test or a CT scan. These may show bone damage, soft tissue injuries, or damage to the discs, spinal cord or ligaments.
The most common treatments for whiplash include:
- Pain relief medications like Advil, Motrin or Aleve
- Applying ice or heat to the affected area
- Gentle massages or exercises
- Injections and ultrasound
Your doctor will likely have you ice the area and promote gentle movement within the first 24 hours. Most whiplash injuries heal within six to nine months of the accident. However, chronic whiplash may take years to fully heal.
Since whiplash is not visible externally and doesn’t show up on standard tests, you will need to speak with a doctor for a diagnosis. Tell them if you notice any of the signs listed above. They can help you from there.
What Should I Do if I Think I Have Whiplash After an Accident?
You should see a doctor immediately after the accident, even if you don’t feel much pain yet. Your doctor can confirm if you have whiplash and help you treat it before too much pain sets in.
Prompt treatment will also help support your insurance claim. The insurance company will want to see that you were treated soon. Otherwise, they may try to say you weren’t actually hurt as badly as you claim. They may also believe whiplash isn’t a real or valid injury—but it is very real, and you deserve financial recovery for your treatment costs.
Protect Your Legal Rights After a Whiplash Injury
Since you may not know right away whether or not you have whiplash, you should be very careful what you say after your accident. You will want to protect your legal right to compensation if you did not cause the accident.
Here are some other things you should do in case you might have whiplash after an accident:
- If responding police ask whether you are hurt, don’t say “no”—even if you feel no pain yet. Say you’re “not sure” until you know for sure you don’t have whiplash
- Do not discuss any injuries (or lack of injuries) with the other driver’s insurance company
- Call a car accident lawyer as soon as possible after your accident. You may need their help proving your whiplash claim
- Keep track of all medical expenses related to the treatment of your accident injuries, including whiplash
Talk to a Lawyer About Your Whiplash Claim for Free
Insurance companies will look for any way to reduce what they owe a personal injury victim. If you claim whiplash as an injury, they may try to fight you on those damages. However, at John Foy & Associates, we know that whiplash is a real, painful and often expensive condition. We can help you seek compensation for all of your damages.
To get started with a FREE consultation today, call us now at (404) 400-4000 or contact us online.