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Understanding whiplash: How it happens and how it can affect you

Whiplash is perhaps one of the most misunderstood injuries. Those who haven't experienced it may be quick to dismiss your symptoms or accuse you of malingering. Yet whiplash is a very real - and sometimes very serious - injury.

The term "whiplash" refers to a strain or sprain of the soft tissue in the neck. It happens when the neck gets forcibly jerked or "whipped" about.

Car accidents - especially rear-end collisions - are the most common cause of whiplash, and whiplash is the most common soft-tissue injury that results from traffic accidents. It doesn't take high speeds to produce these injuries. Even a fender-bender can generate enough force to seriously damage the muscles and ligaments of the neck.

What to look for

How do you know if you're suffering from whiplash? At first, you might not know. Whiplash injuries don't always cause immediate pain. In fact, in most cases, victims don't realize the extent of their injury until a day or two later - which is why it's so important to seek a thorough medical evaluation after even a minor car accident. An MRI may be necessary to reveal the full extent of the damage.

Symptoms of whiplash typically include:

  • Neck pain, stiffness and weakness
  • Pain through the shoulders and upper back
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Poor range of motion

Beyond just pain and stiffness, whiplash can also cause neurological symptoms such as fatigue, confusion, blurred vision, memory loss and trouble sleeping.

How long does it last?

With the right treatment - which might include physical therapy, massage, chiropractic care, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medications - the injury could fully resolve within a few weeks. In many cases, however, it can drag on for months. One source estimates that roughly 25 percent of whiplash victims end up suffering chronic pain.

When whiplash has a lasting impact

There's no doubt that whiplash can have a big impact on your life - especially if it leads to chronic pain, stiffness and reduced mobility. It may interfere with your ability to enjoy day-to-day activities. It could also impair your ability to drive and earn a paycheck.

If you're suffering from whiplash after a car accident, there's no shame in pursuing the compensation you deserve.

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