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How long do whiplash symptoms last?
Many people who suffer a whiplash injury naturally want to know how long their symptoms will last. In this guide we provide advice on how to speed up your recovery and claim compensation for your suffering.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury to the neck that happens when the soft tissues are stretched and damaged. A form of sprain, these injuries can range from mild to severe. The neck is especially prone to this type of damage because it is designed to be highly flexible, which makes it more vulnerable to sprains.
What causes it?
Whiplash happens when the head is suddenly and forcefully thrown backwards, forwards or sideways. are the most common cause of these injuries. For example, they often occur in accidents when a stationary or slow moving car is hit from behind by another vehicle. The rear impact causes the head to suddenly move back and forth, damaging tendons and ligaments in the neck.
Sudden blows to the head can also lead to whiplash. For example, if you are struck on the head while playing sports such as rugby, boxing or judo, there is a risk you will experience this type of injury. Slips or falls that cause your head to jolt backwards can cause whiplash too, and it’s also possible to suffer whiplash if you’re hit on the head by a heavy object.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms of a whiplash injury include neck pain, headaches, neck stiffness and a loss of movement in this part of the body. Pain in the arms and shoulders is another possible sign of whiplash.
Less common symptoms include dizziness, disorientation, tiredness, memory loss, pins and needles in the hands and arms, irritability and poor concentration.
It’s important to realise that these symptoms may not appear immediately following an accident. It can take up to 12 hours after a jolt to the neck for the signs to develop. Also, the symptoms are typically worse the day after an accident and they can continue to worsen for a number of days.
If you experience other symptoms, such as blurred vision, nausea, headaches, difficulty chewing or swallowing, ringing in the ears or problems breathing, ensure you seek immediate medical help. These problems may indicate that you have damaged other important structures in your neck, such as your cervical discs, nerves or airway.
How long does whiplash last?
Because these injuries can differ significantly in terms of how serious they are, it’s often difficult to predict how long they will last. The NHS says that, although whiplash symptoms may get worse for a few days after the injury occurs, the average recovery time is 32 days. However, it’s important to be aware that sometimes these injuries can last for up to a year or even longer.
Highlighting this fact, an NHS study found that 12% of whiplash sufferers were experiencing chronic whiplash. This is a term used to describe whiplash symptoms that last for six months or longer.
The prolonged neck pain experienced by chronic whiplash sufferers can make it difficult for them to continue with normal day-to-day activities. They may find that they have problems at work or that they can’t carry on with the leisure activities they’ve always enjoyed.
Chronic whiplash can cause serious psychological problems too, such as anxiety or depression.
How can whiplash be treated?
Whiplash usually gets better on its own or after some basic treatment. A recommended treatment for whiplash, as suggested by the NHS, is to do some gentle exercises to keep your neck mobile. Suitable physiotherapy can help to relieve the symptoms and speed up recovery, so it’s worth discussing this treatment option with your doctor. Bear in mind that experts advise against using a neck collar or brace that immobilises this part of the body as this is thought to make the symptoms worse.
You can also improve your recovery by ensuring that you stay active (without stretching your neck too much), avoid sitting or lying down for long periods of time and maintain a healthy posture when sitting. It’s a good idea to use a firm pillow and try to keep your head in a neutral position while you sleep too. In other words, make sure your neck isn’t tilted up or down when you’re in bed at night.
If your pain is severe or long-lasting, you might be referred for treatment at a specialist pain clinic.
The importance of acting fast
Although many people who have sustained a whiplash injury get better without experiencing any lasting damage, others find their symptoms last much longer than they expect. By recognising that you have whiplash and seeking treatment as soon as possible after you’ve suffered an accident, you can help to expedite and maximise your recovery. Treatment can usually be provided as part of the process.
How to reduce your risk
It’s impossible to eliminate the risk of suffering whiplash. After all, you can’t rule out the possibility that you will be involved in an accident that causes a neck sprain. However, there are things you can do to make yourself less vulnerable to this type of injury. For example, you can do exercises that help to strengthen the muscles in your neck and you can get into the habit of maintaining a good posture.
Also, make sure you use the recommended safety equipment whenever you are doing activities at work or in your leisure time.
Making a compensation claim
Whether you suffer whiplash as a result of a collision on the roads, an accident at work, a sporting impact or anything else, it can be a serious condition with life-changing consequences. If you have an injury like this and would like to discuss making a whiplash compensation claim to help get your life back on track, it’s important that you seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers are one of the UK’s leading personal injury law firms and have helped guide many whiplash sufferers to brighter outcomes. Most whiplash compensation claims are dealt with on a No Win, No Fee basis, which means there is no financial risk to you whatsoever.
With one of the largest legal teams and some of the most knowledgeable and skilled personal injury lawyers, we have specialist teams who deal with different types of accident and different levels of severity. This means that when you approach us for help at this difficult time, you can have complete confidence that you will receive the right legal advice.
Our legal experts will work with you to ensure the best possible outcome. We have extensive experience in dealing with the tactics insurance companies use when disputing personal injury claims and bring our combined legal knowledge to bear on each case to get the most favourable outcomes for our clients.
Many solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers are members of the Pan European Organisation of Personal Injury Lawyers (), the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers () and the Law Society Personal Injury Panel.
All information was correct at the time of publication.