If you’ve never been in a car accident, consider yourself lucky. The average person will get into three or four accidents during the course of a lifetime, according to insurance industry data. Fortunately, most of those accidents are minor, resulting in only property damage or mild injuries.

Yet even seemingly minor injuries can have major ramifications for your life. In part one of this two-part series, we’ll look at one of the most common accident-related injuries: whiplash.

How it happens

Whiplash refers to strain of the soft tissues in the cervical spine. It happens when your neck experiences a sudden, forceful back-and-forth movement – for example, when someone rear-ends your vehicle at a stoplight. The tendons, muscles and ligaments are stretched beyond their normal range. This can result in microscopic tears and even pinched nerves.

Depending on the severity of the injury, whiplash can cause a wide variety of troubling symptoms such as:

  • Pain in the neck, upper back or shoulders
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Decreased neck mobility
  • Stiffness in the neck and back
  • Headache, dizziness and nausea
  • Neurological problems such memory loss, trouble concentrating and blurred vision

Severe cases can leave you with lasting and debilitating complications.

How it’s diagnosed

Immediately after an accident, your adrenaline might be running high, making it difficult to determine whether you’re injured. The pain might not ramp up until days or weeks later. That’s why it’s so important to seek medical attention right away.

If possible neck injuries are at play, an X-ray can rule out fractures or herniated discs. A CT scan or MRI might shed further light on the extent and severity of soft-tissue injuries.

How it’s treated

Your treatment options will depend on the degree of your whiplash injury. They might include:

  • Wearing a neck brace (cervical collar) to immobilize your neck muscles while healing occurs
  • Taking anti-inflammatory and pain medications
  • Seeking chiropractic care or massage therapy
  • Participating in physical therapy
  • Undergoing acupuncture or trigger point injections

When severe cases go untreated – or aren’t properly treated – the pain can last for months or even years, limiting your ability to work and diminishing your quality of life.

Unfortunately, many accident victims face pressure from their insurance companies to settle quickly, before the full extent of their injuries (and medical bills) are known. While it may be tempting to get the case over and done with, in the long run, you’re much better off speaking with an attorney first to protect your rights.

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