Can Whiplash After an Auto Accident Cause Permanent Injuries?

By Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C.Auto Accident


Whiplash is a relatively common soft tissue injury that is often caused by a rear-end collision. Some studies have shown that awareness of an impending impact can affect the severity of the whiplash injury, with vehicle passengers more prone to suffering greater injury compared to drivers, who may see an approaching vehicle in his or her rear-view mirror.

Other factors that affect whiplash severity include gender (women have less muscular bulk compared to men are more inclined to suffer injury), posture at the time of impact, age, and overall physical condition.

Caused by a sudden jolt which throws the head and neck violently back and forth, whiplash stretches ligaments, muscles and tendons beyond their normal range of motion, resulting in stiffness and pain. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misconception about whiplash injuries after car accidents. You might think that recovery is pretty straightforward: just pop some aspirin, take a week off work and wear a neck brace until symptoms clear up.

Prolonged disability from whiplash

While the majority of people do fully recover from whiplash injury within a reasonable time frame, prolonged disability is not unheard of. In fact, a Danish study found that whiplash victims who suffered extreme neck pain and reduced mobility immediately following their accident were more likely to suffer significant handicaps a year later. The good news is that more than 99 percent of study participants felt back to normal after one month. But participants who complained of neck stiffness and radiating pain – symptoms that are purely subjective and hard to measure with X-rays — were still suffering debilitating pain a full 12 months later.

The whiplash study included 141 adults who had all been involved in a rear-end crash. None had a medical history of neck problems, disc problems, neck pain or headaches. “The absence of abnormality on an X-ray does not mean there’s an absence of reason to hurt,” the lead study author told WebMD.

So how do you know if your whiplash symptoms mean a month of rest or ongoing problems? According to the researchers, much emphasis should be paid to the intensity of your initial symptoms. Are you having trouble turning your head? Is pain radiating from your neck? Is your vision blurry? Are you suffering from sudden, very strong headaches? These are signs that your personal injuries may be more severe.

Other factors that affect whiplash prognosis

The following risk factors can also influence your long-term prognosis:

  • Whiplash symptoms that linger for more than a few months
  • Delay in seeking medical treatment
  • Over the age of 65
  • Degenerative changes common to normal aging process, or prior injury
  • Previous cervical spine fusion
  • Experiencing numbness or tingling down the shoulder and arms soon after the accident

Signs of whiplash, also known as cervical acceleration-deceleration injury, can appear within hours of the impact, or several days later. Due to the long-term consequences of an untreated injury, it’s wise to seek medical attention immediately after any type of auto accident.

Signs of chronic whiplash injury

In some cases, severe hyperextension of the soft tissues in your neck can cause joint dysfunction and/or disc herniation, necessitating ongoing medical care. Other victims may experience emotional anxiety, sleep disturbance or ringing in the ears.

Though whiplash rarely causes permanent injuries, it can spur the following symptoms, which may last for several years:

  • Recurring headaches
  • Reduced mobility of the neck
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Lower back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness in the upper limbs

How a car accident attorney can help

A skilled attorney can evaluate the circumstances of your auto accident and determine whether you are entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost income and pain and suffering.  If you or someone you love suffered whiplash after a crash, the law firm of Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman is positioned to help. Contact our Rockland County car accident lawyers today and set up a free case evaluation.

Additional Long-term Whiplash Effects Resources:

  1. WebMD, Whiplash: Predicting Long-Term Problems
  2. Spine Universe, Long-term Effects of Whiplash
  3. Spine Health, Factors Affecting Whiplash Injury
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