When you’re involved in a car accident, whiplash is one of the most common injuries—and it can be serious. Unfortunately, it’s also an injury that many people don’t seek out treatment for, or don’t even realize they have until their neck, head or back pain grows worse. By that time, you may have already developed complications or aggravated the injury. This is why it’s vital to know what to do for whiplash after your accident.
Responding to a whiplash injury means knowing what to do for yourself both medically and legally. It’s important that you get the treatment you need and take the right self-care steps, and also that you get an appropriate financial recovery so that you don’t end up paying medical bills out of pocket. We’ll address all of these steps in detail below.
What should I do to treat my whiplash immediately after my accident?
The most important thing you can do is to take your whiplash seriously and treat it as a medical condition that requires a doctor. Often, people with whiplash feel little or no pain after the accident—even if they actually have substantial injuries. This is for several reasons:
- In the seconds after the accident, your body releases both adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that help prevent pain so that you can react well during an emergency. But these hormones wear off and, when they do, the pain can become much more extreme.
- Over the first day and night of your injury, you may experience swelling to the injured areas. This swelling is a protective response by your body, but it also puts pressure on injuries and causes stiffness and soreness.
- Many whiplash injuries involve delicate soft tissue like muscles and ligaments. If you don’t treat the injury right away, day-to-day activity will continue to irritate it and potentially make it worse. What was a very small muscle injury can become debilitating over the course of weeks.
This is why the best thing you can do after an accident is seek treatment. If you are already experiencing neck, back or head pain, or clicking in the jaw, go directly to a doctor or the emergency room if needed—even if pain is mild. If you don’t feel any pain at all right away, make an appointment to see the doctor the next day. Chances are good that you will have stiffness and pain that you didn’t feel right away.
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What will a doctor do for my whiplash?
It depends on the type of injury. Whiplash actually refers to the motion of being suddenly thrown forward and back in a car during an accident, and it can cause many types of specific injuries, known generally as whiplash-associated disorder (WAD). There is no single test for WAD and an X-ray does not help because WAD usually involves soft tissue, not broken bones. However, your doctor will evaluate the type of pain you have along with what causes it—moving a certain way, laying down, etc. Then they may recommend certain treatments including:
- Massage therapy
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic treatments
- Stretches and strengthening exercises
- Wearing a soft cervical collar (“neck brace”)
- NSAIDs and pain medication
- Injections such as an epidural to block pain impulses and allow tissue to heal
The specific treatment will depend on the types of injuries you have and how extreme your pain is.
What self-care steps can I take at home for whiplash?
Because every whiplash injury is different, you need to follow the specific instructions your doctor gives you. In general, however, self-care for whiplash includes:
- Icing the area during the first 24 hours only
- Taking an over-the-counter NSAID like ibuprofen for pain and swelling
- Using a neck collar, a rolled up towel, or an “airplane style” neck pillow while sleeping to control your neck position
- Avoiding hard physical work involving the affected areas
All of these recommendations could change with the injury, however, and doctors will often recommend continuing to give the affected area some gentle use. Even when a doctor recommends a neck brace, for example, they will usually tell you to wear it only intermittently. And they may want you to stretch or strengthen your neck, back or other areas with specific exercises. Gentle exercise can help injured soft tissue heal, whereas full rest or immobilization can sometimes prevent healing. In all cases, follow your doctor’s recommendations.
What legal steps should I take regarding my whiplash after my accident?
We recommend taking advantage of a free consultation with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible after your car accident. Generally, you will want to set up an appointment within one week of the accident for several reasons:
- Insurance companies will move fast and begin investigating your claim immediately
- You need legal advice before the first offer the insurance company gives you
- Proceeding without legal representation increases the chances that you will make a mistake that costs you money
It’s also important to know that everything you say or do can be used as evidence against you by the insurance company. This means you need to be your own advocate and protect yourself:
- Do not apologize for the accident, even out of politeness
- State from the beginning that you are in pain and seeking medical treatment
- Follow all of your doctor’s orders
- Never sign anything from the insurance company—or give a recorded statement—without speaking to a lawyer first
- If the insurance company calls to ask you questions, tell them you have a lawyer and give them your lawyer’s contact information
Above all, don’t accept the “fast cash” you’re offered right away. You don’t know yet what the total cost of your injury will be. Many whiplash cases heal completely within six months, but about 20% will involve chronic pain or a permanent complication. Your lawyer will help you assess the full cost of your recovery and help get you the full amount of money you need.
Have you been injured? John Foy & Associates offers a free consultation with some of the most experienced and respected personal injury lawyers in Georgia. Fill out the form to your right or call us at 404-400-4000 to get your FREE consultation today.