Whiplash Symptoms, Understanding The Symptoms After A Car Accident

Whiplash symptoms from a car accident can cause you pain right away. But just as common, pain and symptoms sometimes can take 10 days to even 2 weeks before you feel them. This makes whiplash a bit complicated as you might think you are not injured after a car accident. Then 2 weeks later you wake up and can barely move your neck, or you find you are have constant headaches.

Whiplash - rapid whip like action of head and neck

Whiplash gets it's name from how your head and neck move when someone crashes into you. Unfortunately, during the accident, your head is often powerfully snapped back and forward so fast you don't even notice it happening.

This fast whip like action of your head is what causes the strain and sprain in your muscles, tendons and ligaments. In severe cases, this whip action can create disc injury in the spine. And it is this motion which creates your pain.

Whiplash Symptoms

  • Neck pain and stiffness (often in the front of your neck too)
  • Headaches, often at the base of the skull
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Emotional upset- from fear, to crying to anger, unexpectedly
  • Speech changes
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • Memory problems
  • Concussion


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The most common whiplash symptoms are pain and stiffness in your neck and upper back. You may have already noticed that:

If you try (gently) to touch your chin to your chest, or if you try to look straight up above your head this is perhaps impossible or you are very sore and stiff. Often the muscles in the front of your throat are strained too.

During my exam the day after my serious car accident, a doctor at the emergency room put his hands on the front of my neck and gently squeezed the muscles. (Don't do this!).....I screeched and immediately had tears streaming down my face from the pain. I just was not prepared, I had NO idea whiplash could be so painful....

The doctor just looked at me after my screech and said, "Yep, you have a really bad case of whiplash"!

Whiplash from a side impact can make it painful to tilt your head to your shoulders. And you may have other whiplash symptoms than simply pain from your accident.

It took me over three months to find out that putting my keys in the refrigerator and calling elevators elephants was related to a head injury from my car accident. I had a mild brain injury caused by the accident.

And I thought all I had was neck pain.

I always recommend keeping a simple notebook or journal of your symptoms. These notes will help your doctors and therapists give you the best treatment. But, it is also important for your case. In a year from now when you are asking the insurance company to reach a financial settlement with you your documentation of your injuries and your pain right now, will help your attorney get the best settlement for you possible.

How Long Will Whiplash Symptoms Last?

If you have never had an auto accident injury, I am sure you are currently a bit shocked by how much everything actually hurts, and how difficult it is to do normal daily activities.

Your soft tissues, ligaments, tendons, fascia, and muscles were stretched, strained and sprained during this trauma. And strangely,these soft tissue injuries often will take longer to heal than if you had broken bones. The injury and pain you experience is part of what an attorney will look at in helping you determine what financial compensation you will be entitled to from the insurance company.

After treating car accident patients for the last 25 years I found the following chart to be the most accurate predictor of how long your whiplash symptoms were going to last.

Minor Car Accident

Even minor accidents can cause serious whiplash symptoms. Your car is slightly damaged or in some cases shows no noticeable damage, and you have pain that may arrive 10 days - too two weeks after your accident. With this type of accident, you can expect up to 3 months to heal.

Medium Accident

This is an accident where there is significant damage to your car, sometimes even totaled. You may have been taken to the emergency room, and your pain may be immediate or up to show up 10 days to 2 weeks after your accident. Expect 3 to 6 months to heal. You need an attorney to receive a fair settlement.

Serious Accident

In this type of accident your car is heavily damaged, often totaled, and you are always injured, you may have lost consciousness, or suffered a concussion. Expect 6 months to a year to heal. For these accidents, please call an attorney as soon as you read this. Your case is complicated and you should not try to negotiate with the insurance company on your own.

Extreme Accident

In this accident you usually need surgery, you leave the accident site in an ambulance, and unfortunately there are often fatalities in this level of accident. The healing of this accident for your medical care, may take a year or more. This accident can also leave very serious emotional scars, you may find that psychological counseling eases some of your pain and trauma. It goes without saying, if you were involved in an accident of this nature, an attorney is essential, and should be brought into your case as soon as possible.

Brain Injury and Whiplash

Before we go any further, please know that some of the whiplash symptoms above are more serious than others. If you or someone you love has been in a serious car accident and has these or other odd or worrisome symptoms:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory problems
  • speech disturbances (stuttering, forgetting words, misplacing words)
  • or severe personality changes

...it's very important for you or your loved one to seek out a neurologist.

Sometimes during a car accident, the whipping motion to the head can also cause mild and occasionally severe brain injury. You do not need to be diagnosed with a concussion to have brain injury symptoms. The brain can become injured when it hits the inside of the skull during a car accident. Real and lasting damage can happen without a person hitting their head.

Please do not ignore any symptoms that may indicate an injury to the brain. Do not accept that you are depressed. If the first doctor does not take you seriously, make sure you continue to search for a doctor who will exam your brain injuries and help you find a solution.

Please continue to tell your doctors you were in a serious car accident.

What Do I Do Now?

When you have whiplash symptoms, you must seek out treatment. And this means you have to put yourself first. I know that before this accident you were already super busy, and finding time to fit in treatment can feel impossible. However, treatment now can help you prevent long term chronic problems.

My advice: Got to your doctor, document your pain, consult a lawyer to help you get your bills paid, and help you deal with the insurance companies.

On the next page we will discuss whiplash injury treatment and how to find the right treatment for your pain and your injuries.

Head Over here for more information on whiplash injury treatments.

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