What Does Whiplash Feel Like?


    Whiplash injuries are common in car accidents and can be extremely painful. The following article will provide an in-depth answer to the question, "What does whiplash feel like?" as well as an overview of what to do if you think you have a whiplash injury.

    What is Whiplash?

    Whiplash is the result of a sudden and unexpected movement that causes the neck to be “whipped” rapidly back and forth past its normal range of motion. The forces involved in car crashes often create the type of sudden acceleration/deceleration that causes the neck's muscles and ligaments to overstretch and tear. This motion can cause major pain to the neck muscles and may manifest as neck pain, neck stiffness, or loss of range of motion. It often causes an inflammatory response that causes the neck muscles to go into spasm.

    Radiating pain into your shoulder, arm, or hand is a sign that the nerves in your cervical spine are being impinged, probably by a herniated disk. It will require an MRI to diagnose a herniated disk. X-rays will not be diagnostic for disc pathology such as a herniated disc. If you experience neck pain after an accident, you should seek medical attention immediately.

    It is vitally important to know that the same kind of acceleration/deceleration forces that cause whiplash also cause brain injuries. Our brains are not attached to our skulls. Sudden acceleration/deceleration can cause our brain to slam into the interior of our skull causing bruising or bleeding, even without direct trauma to the head. Brain bleeds can cause death and should be ruled out at the emergency room with a CT scan.

    What Causes Whiplash?

    Whiplash can be caused by a number of factors, including:

    • Car accidents
    • Incidents of physical abuse (such as being punched or shaken)
    • Incidents involving contact sports (such as football, boxing, and karate)
    • Horseback riding
    • Cycling accidents
    • Falls in which the head violently jerks backward
    • Blows to the head with a heavy object

    What Does Whiplash Feel Like?

    The symptoms of whiplash usually appear within 24 hours after the incident that caused the whiplash. In many cases of whiplash, some symptoms may take a few days to develop and may last for several months.

     Common symptoms of whiplash include:

    • Neck pain and stiffness
    • Headaches, specifically at the base of the skull
    • Dizziness
    • Blurred vision
    • Constant weariness
    • Stiffness and diminished range of motion from muscle spasms

    Less common symptoms associated with chronic whiplash include:

    • Problems with concentration and memory
    • Ringing in the ears
    • Inability to sleep
    • Irritability
    • Chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, upper back, or head

    When Should I See a Doctor for a Suspected Whiplash Injury?

    If you are experiencing whiplash symptoms, it is recommended that you seek medical attention right away. This is especially true because sometimes an injury is much more serious than you may have initially assumed. In situations where you are feeling significant pain in your neck, you should see your doctor if:

    • You feel immediate pain after the injury. If you experience severe neck pain right after an accident, you should visit the doctor. It is important not to ignore your pain symptoms, as pain could indicate that something more serious is wrong. Even if you did not suffer an actual whiplash injury, your doctor can prescribe medication to help you alleviate the pain.
    • You have multiple symptoms. Sometimes, more common whiplash symptoms are accompanied by other issues, including arm pain, shoulder pain, jaw discomfort, and fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately.
    • You do not feel like your normal self. You may suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues after an accident. These issues may increase as you struggle to recover. If you start to recognize that you do not feel like yourself, you should visit your doctor, who will evaluate you and treat your physical symptoms. You may also consider consulting with a mental health provider, who may suggest that you undergo therapy or take medication.
    • The pain continues to increase. If it appears that your pain is continuing to get worse, you should see a doctor. Oftentimes, symptoms get worse when an injury has not been diagnosed.
    • You fail to reach the benchmarks for recovery. Generally speaking, you should start feeling better after a few days. By three to four months, your symptoms should be gone. If it has been over four months and your symptoms have not subsided or seem to be getting worse, you should visit your doctor so they can advise a treatment plan.

    How is Whiplash Diagnosed?

    If you are experiencing severe whiplash symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider immediately. When you go in to get looked at, your healthcare provider will perform a thorough exam. That person will likely ask you questions about your injury, such as how it occurred, where you feel pain, and whether the pain is dull, shooting, or sharp. This person may also perform a physical exam to check your range of motion and look for areas of tenderness. After performing this assessment, your provider may find it necessary to order one or more of the following tests:

    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): The most common and accurate imaging test to identify a whiplash injury is an MRI. An MRI is a medical imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues in your body. This test should be able to accurately pinpoint the specific cause and location of your pain.
    • X-rays: X-ray imaging tests use radiation to create pictures of the inside of your body. X-rays should help the healthcare provider rule out other potential causes of your neck pain.
    • Computed tomography (CT): A CT scan is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to get detailed images of the bones of your spine. These scans are more detailed than standard x-rays and provide detailed images of specific parts of your body, including your bones, muscles, fat, and organs.

    What Kinds of Treatments are Available for Whiplash Injuries?

    Your healthcare provider will determine specific treatment for whiplash, based on:

    • Your age, overall health, and medical history
    • The extent of your injury
    • Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
    • Expectations for the course of your injury
    • Your stated opinion or preference

    Your healthcare provider might recommend some of the following methods to treat whiplash if your symptoms are not improving or are getting worse:

    • Ice applications to the area for the first 24 hours
    • Cervical (neck) collar
    • Gentle, active movement after 24 hours
    • Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter pain medications (such as ibuprofen)
    • Muscle relaxants
    • Physical therapy
    • Osteopathic manipulation

    What Types of Damages are Awarded in Personal Injury Cases Involving Whiplash?

    If you suffer a whiplash injury due to someone else’s actions, you will likely be eligible to receive both general damages and special damages.

    General Damages

    General damages refer to compensation for the physical and mental injuries that an individual has suffered. Although each personal injury case is different, general damages typically include:

    • Physical disfigurement
    • Mental anguish
    • Physical impairment
    • Lowered quality of life
    • Physical pain and suffering
    • Loss of companionship (awarded to the family members of the decedent in cases that involve wrongful death)

    Special or Economic Damages

    Special or economic damages are awarded to compensate the injured party for any losses suffered because of the actions of the defendant. These types of damages typically include:

    • Past and future medical expenses
    • Loss of irreplaceable items
    • Replacement and repair of damaged property
    • Loss of earning capacity and lost wages

    Are There Any Ways to Prevent Whiplash Injuries?

    Of course, not all whiplash injuries can be prevented. However, there are a few practical tips that may prevent some of these injuries from occurring, specifically when it comes to driving and playing sports:

    Preventing Whiplash When Driving 

    • Get a car that has an active head restraint (AHR) system. AHR is a technology that automatically activates the headrest pillow during a rear-end crash to move up and extend forward to minimize the gap between the driver’s head and the headrest, which reduces the impact and the risk of a neck injury.
    • Observe the correct sitting position in your vehicle. Every vehicle occupant should ensure that their heads are correctly positioned. The top of the headrest should be level with the top of your head (or at least the top of your ears). The headrest should also be close (less than three inches) to the back of your head. All occupants should always sit upright and wear a safety belt. Properly wearing your safety belt helps you remain in a neutral position if a collision occurs and also ensures that your head is aligned with the head restraint. If you realize a crash is imminent or hear the squeal of tires approaching you, you should try to lean your head back so that it is touching the head restraint, face straight ahead, and try to remain in a neutral position.
    • Follow the “two-second rule.” It is very important to always leave a safe distance between your car and the car ahead of you. This is because if you follow too close behind the car in front of you, you may not have sufficient time to stop if that person decides to brake suddenly. In turn, the car behind you may also hit you if you brake suddenly or without warning, increasing your odds of suffering a whiplash injury.

    Preventing Whiplash During Sports

    Whiplash is also a common sports injury. Here are some ways you can protect yourself when participating in dangerous sports.

    • Use protective equipment. Contact sports (such as football, wrestling, and boxing) can put you at increased risk of sustaining whiplash injuries. As such, if you choose to engage in these sports, you should always make sure you use the correct protective equipment, such as a helmet.
    • Warm up properly. Performing warm-up and neck stretching exercises before you engage in contact sports releases neck tension and pain, improves your strength and flexibility, and ultimately helps prevent whiplash injuries from occurring.

    Have You Recently Suffered Whiplash Due to Someone Else’s Actions? 

    If you recently suffered whiplash due to the actions of another, the Palermo Law Group can help. We will work hard to help you prepare a strong personal injury case and will ensure that you are able to hold the liable party responsible for your injuries. Call us today at (630)-684-2332 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation with our experienced personal injury attorney.




    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 23 years, he has worked tirelessly to help injury victims and their families in their times of need. He is a seasoned authority on civil litigation, and also a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Mr. Palermo has been named a “Leading Lawyer” by his peers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

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