Whiplash is a common injury that generally results from a sudden and forceful rear impact, most often the result of a rear-end collision. When a vehicle is hit from behind, the vehicle occupant’s neck and head are rapidly hyperextended backwards while their body is pushed forwards. The whip-like motion associated with an abrupt acceleration and deceleration movement can result in a whiplash injury. The term, cervical acceleration/deceleration (CAD) has been coined to refer to the event causing whiplash.
Although this injury is most commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, it can also be caused by a physical assault including shaken baby syndrome, or a sports accident, such as a collision between football or hockey players.
Studies of a body’s motion during a rear-end collision have revealed that the lower vertebrae in the neck are locked into hyperextension while the upper vertebrae in the neck are hyper flexed, after the event. The abnormal S-shape in the spine can result in soft tissue damage to the tissue around the cervical vertebrae, such as ligaments, muscles and facet capsules.
Symptoms of Whiplash
The most common symptoms of whiplash are as follows. Of these, headaches, neck pain and stiffness of the neck are the most frequently experienced symptoms. Neck pain, in particular, is experienced by 90 per cent of whiplash sufferers.
- neck pain and stiffness
- shoulder pain and lack of mobility
- arm pain and/or weakness
- lower back pain
- pain in the jaw
- vision problems
The following symptoms sometimes result from a whiplash injury.
- ringing in the ears
- difficulty concentrating,
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- loss of sex drive
- drug dependency
Some of these symptoms of whiplash are associated with an injury to the brain which can occur when the brain is bruised or bleeds, after bouncing off the inside of the skull during a forceful collision. Although a person may not lose consciousness after such an event, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances and personality changes may be some of the long-term effects of mild brain injury. A muting in the sense of smell, taste and an effect on a person’s vison may be caused by damage to the nerves responsible for these senses.
Anyone who was involved in an accident and experiences any of the above symptoms should immediately consult with a physician to assess their injury. In fact, it is wise to always have a medical checkup following any accident. In addition to soft tissue damage, sometimes fractures and other injuries contribute to the accident victim’s symptoms, so a proper diagnosis is extremely important to the recovery process. In most cases, whiplash injuries heal within a few months; however, a failure to treat a whiplash injury can increase the likelihood of chronic pain and/or psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
No one can predict whether any one person will experience a serious whiplash injury as a result of an accident. Some of the factors that effect a person’s susceptibility to injury are: force and speed of impact; and characteristics of the injured person such as their general health, previous injuries, gender, age and height. Older persons with a pre-existing condition, such as a back injury, are prone to display more severe symptoms and may require more rehabilitative care than younger accident victims.
Whiplash injury is complicated and controversial. The injury cannot be substantiated using a standard medical test, in the way that an X-ray shows broken bones. Also, whiplash injuries may involve changes to the nervous system, muscles, joints and soft tissue that cannot be easily diagnosed and are generally difficult to treat.
According to Mayo Clinic doctors, chronic pain symptoms are more likely to occur when the injured person experiences a rapid onset of severe neck pain, pain extending to the arms and headaches. However, this is not a clear indicator because, for some accident victims, whiplash symptoms take longer, even months, to present.
Future Care and Compensation for Whiplash Injury
Accident victims who experience a whiplash injury are advised to follow their physician’s recommendations for rehabilitative care. Some of the treatments that have had the most success in relieving whiplash symptoms are: exercise rehabilitation, massage therapy, trigger point therapy and chiropractic. Many sufferers require medication to ease the symptoms, including anti-inflammatory medication and muscle relaxants. The use of ice packs, limiting the amount of strenuous activity and rest are also important elements in a person’s recovery.
It is very important for injured persons to document their care and save any receipts for treatments or other expenses. It may take some time to determine the severity of your symptoms, and ongoing documentation of the effects on your life is important evidence if you decide to claim for compensation for your serious and long-term symptoms.
Anyone who was injured in a motor vehicle accident is entitled to compensation for losses resulting from their injury through their ‘no fault’ vehicle insurance policy. Under Ontario’s Insurance Act, treatment and expenses arising from minor injuries are capped at $3500, regardless of an accident victim’s age or state of health. The ‘minor injury’ designation includes whiplash disorder as well as strains, sprains, abrasions, lacerations, partial dislocation of a joint or organ, and any pathological disorder that results from an injury or trauma. However, those with pre existing conditions may be taken out of the minor injury guideline and have access to more than $3500 in the medical/rehabilitation entitlement.
In cases of severe whiplash injury, accident victims often suffer from chronic pain, which is frequently accompanied by other negative effects such as a diminished ability to concentrate and enjoy everyday activities. In such cases of long-term and serious symptoms, an accident victim is entitled to sue the negligent party responsible for causing their injury, and may claim compensation for actual financial losses such as income loss, housekeeping and home maintenance, and rehabilitation, as well as an award for general damages. General damages compensate an injured person for their pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment in life. However, in order to receive general damages, an injured person must have sustained a serious and permanent disfigurement or impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function.
When a whiplash injury results in long-term and ongoing pain, a person’s entire life can be impacted. Pain tends to affect cognitive function, social interactions and even, familial relationships. These outcomes also impact the ability to function in a work environment and certainly, enjoyment in life.
If you or a loved one experienced a whiplash injury that resulted in serious and long-term symptoms, consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer at Kotak Law. Expert assessment and testimony from accredited medical professionals is key evidence in substantiating the severity of your injuries and in building a strong case for you.