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What Is Late Whiplash Syndrome?

Whiplash is an injury to your neck and shoulders. It occurs when a sudden force jolts the neck back and forth or vice versa. This can cause damage to the muscles, discs, nerves and tendons in the neck and spinal column.

Man clutches neck while looking at cell phone after car crash

Many people suffer whiplash injuries after a car accident, and the pain can be immense. While symptoms usually appear within 24 hours after a crash or traumatic event, it’s possible for signs of a whiplash injury to appear several weeks or months later.

Delayed Whiplash Symptoms

When whiplash symptoms don’t appear until later, it is known as delayed whiplash or late whiplash syndrome (LWS). It’s estimated that between 14% to 42% of people who suffer whiplash pain after a car accident develop chronic symptoms.

Regardless of whether these symptoms of whiplash are immediate or delayed, victims usually report similar signs and pain, including:

  • Severe headaches that start at the base of the skull
  • Pain, stiffness, and limited mobility in the neck, shoulders, or back
  • Blurry vision
  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of fatigue or low energy
  • Chronic pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Jaw pain
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble remembering or concentrating

In rare cases, severe whiplash requires immediate treatment. If you experience any of the following symptoms after an accident, seek prompt medical attention:

  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Excruciating pain
  • Neck pain that spreads into the shoulders and arms
  • Vision loss

Delayed Whiplash Pain Is Not Psychological

There is limited evidence so far to support the claim that people who report late whiplash syndrome are lying, exaggerating, or feeling false pain. A systematic literature review found no association “between the development of LWS and personality traits, general psychological distress, well-being, social support, life control, and psychosocial work factors.”

In other words, it’s not all in your head.

What Causes Delayed Whiplash?

Car accidents, especially rear-end collisions, are the most common reason for whiplash injuries. The force of the crash causes the head and neck to snap back and forth quickly. This can easily strain or tear delicate tissues and muscles in the neck and shoulders.

Rear-end accidents aren’t the only type of crash that causes whiplash. Front-end accidents and side collisions can also cause whiplash symptoms and pain. Any time the neck is rapidly snapped in a direction, whiplash may result.

Other causes of whiplash may include amusement park rides, blows to the head, falls, contact sports, and recreational sports like cycling or snowboarding.

Why Whiplash Injury Should Not Be Underestimated

Acute pain in the neck and shoulders after a car accident or rear-end collision should never be ignored. Whether the pain occurs a few minutes, days, or weeks after a crash, you deserve medical treatment.

Even if you aren’t sure your pain severe enough to warrant a visit to a doctor, it’s better to seek treatment quickly. When a whiplash injury happens, physical changes occur within the cervical spine and joints. You may have suffered serious injuries such as small fractures, ruptured spinal discs, or pinched nerves.

If those changes aren’t diagnosed and corrected through proper pain management, your discomfort may persist for months and become chronic. Chronic pain due to whiplash not only harms a person’s sense of well-being, it can interfere with daily life and enjoyment, such as the ability to drive, work, or engage in hobbies.

Seek treatment after collision. Keep your primary care physician informed of any changes in your condition, especially if your symptoms worsen.

Whiplash Injury Treatment

Doctor explains whiplash diagnosis to patient

When a whiplash injury happens, the jolting motion strains neck muscles, ligaments, and nerves. In some cases, the spine and spinal cord may have been affected. Since it may be unclear where the source of pain is coming from, a patient should seek treatment with a pain management doctor.

A pain management specialist will perform a physical exam and ask questions about any prior injuries and accidents that may have contributed to your condition. They likely need to perform some imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI.

It’s important to follow the doctor’s orders. They may recommend rest, heat or cold therapy, pain medications, and muscle relaxers. Numbing injections, trigger point injections (used to disrupt pain signals), chiropractic care, and physical therapy may also be prescribed.

With the proper treatment and attention, most whiplash injuries fully heal in about three months.

Talk to a Whiplash Injury Lawyer

Insurance companies often try to downplay the seriousness or validity of whiplash injury after a car accident, especially if symptoms appear later. Don’t let them ignore your pain.

You deserve to be heard and compensated for your damages and suffering. Car accidents are traumatic events; no matter how safe vehicles have become, the human body did not evolve to endure such tremendous forces. Whiplash injury is real, and should always be taken seriously.

If you’ve been injured in an accident and are suffering from symptoms of whiplash or delayed whiplash, contact our Atlanta personal injury lawyers to learn your rights. We can defend against the insurance company and help you get the medical treatment you need.

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