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A Look at Whiplash and its Short and Long-Term Effects

Automobile accidents continue to be one of society’s main driver safety concerns, and with good reason. Many thousands of vehicular accidents occur each day across the United States, resulting in everything from minor injury to death. Whiplash is one of the most common types of injuries suffered in these collisions, and has been the focus of ongoing debate and research over the last few decades. Despite the rate at which these injuries occur, however, whiplash continues to be a misunderstood condition that can have both short-term and ongoing negative effects on the lives of those who experience it.

What is Whiplash?

The neck injury most commonly referred to as whiplash occurs as the result of a forceful movement of the neck as it is whipped back and forth. The injury itself results from the rapid flexion and hyperextension of the muscles and soft tissue as energy is transferred to the neck, whipping the head backward, forward, or in both directions in quick succession. Whiplash is most commonly associated with car accidents, particularly those in which one vehicle is struck from behind. It should be noted, however, that there are also incidents in which this condition occurs due to sports trauma or even physical abuse.

How Can You Recognize Whiplash Symptoms?

Patients who have suffered any degree of whiplash will typically start experiencing symptoms within the first twenty-four hours after the incident. Often times, patients can have difficulty identifying the nature of their discomfort, since these symptoms can vary depending upon the exact nature of the injury. As a general rule, however, you may be suffering from whiplash if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Headaches, dizziness, memory issues, or blurred vision
  • Pain, stiffness, and impaired movement in the neck
  • Shoulder pain or tenderness, including pain that radiates to the upper extremities
  • Tingling
  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Otherwise unexplained fatigue or sleep disruptions
  • Tinnitus 


The Short-Term Impact

It is important to note that the bulk of these injuries consist of simple neck strains that have no real lasting impact. In most instances, this less-severe type of injury heals of its own accord in as little as three weeks, provided no further strain is placed upon the muscle tissue. Those who take longer to heal may suffer from headaches and other symptoms for several months before full recovery is attained.

The Long-Term Impact

For the roughly 43% of patients who continue to experience symptoms for many months and even years after the incident, the prognosis is not as kind. Some of those patients never recover, and may even suffer a permanent disability that can impede normal daily activities and substantially impact their quality of life. Some are injured so badly that they end up suffering chronic pain for the rest of their lives, particularly those victims who have some previous neck injury in their past or whose perception of heir injury leads to a heightened awareness of pain sensations.

Because these complications can be so impactful on patients’ lives, it is important for any accident victim who experiences whiplash symptoms to seek prompt medical treatment. That is the best way to ensure that your doctor is alerted to the possibility of a neck injury, and prevent as many additional complications as possible.

Safety Steps You Can Take

Whiplash is not always avoidable, but safety experts do have some simple advice that can help to reduce the risk you face on the road. Obviously, they recommend that drivers always be cautious and maintain a safe operating distance between themselves and other vehicles – a minimum of two seconds distance at all times.

Even more important, however, is that you take the steps necessary to provide your head and neck with as much protection as possible. Many whiplash victims have been harmed due to a failure to properly align their driver-side head restraint. Your head and neck are best protected when the top of that headrest is at the same height as the top of your head. That allows your head to be cushioned by the body of the restraint, providing some level of security in the event that you are rear-ended in an accident.