Whiplash is the single most common physical injury in New York auto accidents. It happens when the force of impact causes the head and neck to whip back and forth quickly — more quickly than the neck structure is designed to withstand.
How forceful does the impact have to be? Not very. Studies have shown that significant whiplash can occur at speeds as low as five miles per hour.
Moreover, the whiplash injury can happen in mere seconds. In fact, many people who suffer from whiplash don’t remember it happening, and they often don’t even realize they have whiplash until hours, days, or even weeks have passed.
That’s because soreness and inflammation set in gradually. Meanwhile, the surge of adrenaline and confusion during an auto accident distracts the brain from physical symptoms — a kind of “fog of war” effect.
For most people, whiplash will resolve in a matter of months, especially in the context of medical treatment. Still, even in these relatively short-term whiplash cases, if the underlying accident happened because someone else was negligent, the whiplash victim may be entitled to financial compensation for their suffering. Indeed, whiplash compensation is a common part of New York auto accident claims, and in some claims, it may be the only damage cited.
But sometimes whiplash doesn’t go away. In these cases — which we now know are more common than doctors once believed — the long-term effects of whiplash can persist for years, causing profound pain and restricted mobility, to say nothing of the substantial disruption to the victim’s quality of life.
So what are the long-term effects of whiplash? Who is most likely to suffer from chronic whiplash? And just how common is it? We look at the latest science below.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Whiplash?
While whiplash is primarily defined by neck pain and restricted range of motion in the head, neck, and shoulders, the long-term effects of whiplash can reach much farther. They may include:
- Pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, upper back, or lower back
- Numbness, weakness, stiffness, or pain in the arms and/or legs
- Severe headaches (sometimes including migraines)
- Reduced cervical range of motion
- Jaw pain
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty sleeping / fatigue
- Difficulty with memory or focus
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Stomach aches
- A variety of non-painful neurological symptoms
- Irritability and/or anxiety
- General ill health
Additionally, several studies have shown that people who suffer the long-term effects of whiplash are more likely to experience new-onset mental anguish and emotional distress, which researchers believe may be due to the frustration of dealing with an injury that makes life more difficult and “seems like it will never go away.”
If you are suffering with the long-term effects of whiplash, it’s important to talk with an experienced car accident lawyer about your rights and options under the law, which may include compensation for your economic damages as well as any ongoing pain and suffering caused by the whiplash.
Studies Reveal the Serious the Long-Term Effects of Whiplash
A 2001 study published in Neurology, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that nearly 8% of whiplash victims are unable to return to their normal activity levels more than one year after the accident, due specifically to pain and stiffness caused by the whiplash.
Researchers studied a group of 4,124 auto accident victims over a period of seven years. They found significant incidence of long-term effects from whiplash, with percentages varying depending on the type of accident and the severity of the initial injuries.
In some groups, the risk of developing “chronic disability and handicap” after whiplash was as high as 50%.
Notably, the same study found that severe whiplash pain symptoms may be present in accident victims whose x-rays show no indication of injury.
Who Is at Risk?
The long-term effects of whiplash primarily affect four groups of people:
- Serious injuries — The more forceful the impact (and the more severe the initial whiplash), the more likely symptoms are to persist for more than a year.
- Reduced neck movement as an initial symptom — According to the 2001 Neurology study, “those who had reduced neck [movement] were at highest risk, and 75% of them were still handicapped after one year.”
- Rear-end auto accidents — While whiplash can occur in any auto accident (and in many other types of personal injury accidents), rear-end auto accident victims are at higher risk of developing chronic whiplash.
- Lack of treatment — People who do not seek appropriate medical treatment soon after whiplash are more likely to suffer long-term symptoms. This may be true even in some people whose initial injuries are not severe, as aggravation to the initial injury can prolong recovery.
- Vulnerable individuals — Children, senior citizens, and adults with disabilities are at higher risk for the long-term effects of whiplash. Position and posture within the vehicle can also lead to more severe whiplash, regardless of one one’s age or preexisting health conditions.
These groups tend to experience more severe symptoms over a longer period of time. They also report a larger number of sick days (workplace absenteeism), a greater need for counseling or psychological therapy, and higher rates of reliance on prescription medication (including narcotics, which are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects and the risk of addiction).
Insurance Companies May Try to Deny the Long-Term Effects of Whiplash
For many years, insurance companies have waged a PR campaign against whiplash, insisting the injury was less than medically legitimate. The last two decades have produced a significant body of peer-reviewed medical evidence to the contrary.
If you have been in an auto accident in New York, it’s important for you to understand that:
- Whiplash is common and real.
- Whiplash is a compensable injury under New York personal injury law.
- Insurance companies defend against whiplash claims aggressively, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have rights.
- Whiplash symptoms may get worse over time. But if you rush into an insurance settlement, you will lose the right to claim compensation as the condition gets worse.
What are the long-term effects of whiplash? As we have seen, the answer depends on the person and the type of accident, but in every instance, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible after your accident.
You may have a claim even for more moderate whiplash injuries, and in the event your symptoms do not resolve in the short-term, it will be important to have ongoing medical documentation of your experience.
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