One of the most common injuries after a car accident is whiplash. Whiplash happens when a person’s head quickly and violently snaps backward and forward. This whip-like motion stretches the neck further than its normal range of motion, damaging the tendons.
Whiplash injury symptoms are often delayed—particularly when a rear-end vehicle crash is involved. Also, after a crash, the body is flooded with adrenaline, which can mask injury symptoms.
Moreover, you don’t need to be in a major accident to experience whiplash. Even minor car crashes can result in enough neck-stretching to cause injury.
In fact, many cases of whiplash are the result of crashes where drivers were moving less than 14 mph.
Common whiplash symptoms
Given that whiplash symptoms don’t always present immediately, it can be easy to overlook a serious injury. Furthermore, some people go days before they notice any sign(s) of whiplash.
Here are some of the signs you should look for:
- Headaches. Headaches are among the most common symptoms of whiplash. The International Medical Society of Paraplegia reports that as many as 60 percent of all whiplash sufferers experience headaches. A whiplash-induced headache will likely cause an ache at the base of the skull. In some cases, people will experience a painful sensation localized on one side of the head, while others will experience pain all over. Others can have headaches that are localized on the forehead or behind their eyes.
- Numbness, pain or tingling in the arm or hand. Perhaps a more frightening symptom is numbness in the arms and/or hands, as well as tingling sensations. This symptom is caused by damage to the neck and/or spinal column. The numbness is typically caused by a pinched nerve or damage that causes intense pressure.
- Pain or stiffness in the neck. Neck pain and/or stiffness after a car crash is the result of the ligaments, muscles and tendons being hyperextended, causing them to be sprained or strained. Your neck is composed of vertebrae, which are solid, bony blocks and flexible discs. The force of a car crash is enough to jolt your vertebrae out of alignment. This unalignment results in the inability to fully move your head, muscle pain and sharp pains in the neck.
- Stiffness and soreness in the jaw. During car crashes, the jaw joint can become dislocated or cause a disorder with the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) that connect the jawbone and skull. These joints allow a person to open and close their mouth. When a person has a TMJ disorder, they can experience a clicking sound or even a sensation of grating when they open their mouth to chew or speak. This can not only make activities such as eating and talking difficult, it can also be frustrating.
- Tinnitus. Tinnitus is a sensation of ringing, whistling or buzzing in the ears that only the sufferer can hear. When a person is in a car crash, the same jolt that leads to whiplash can also cause a pressure wave within the skull that can result in post-concussive symptoms—such as tinnitus. While ringing in the ears sounds harmless enough, it’s caused by damage to the inner ear. Severe cases of tinnitus can lead to concentration problems, confusion, sleep trouble and depression.
Although whiplash may seem like a common and treatable injury after a crash, you should take it seriously since it involves the neck. If you or a loved one experienced whiplash after a car crash, you may need the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to ensure you’re compensated properly and in a timely fashion.