Understanding the Potential Complications of Whiplash

Understanding the Potential Complications of Whiplash
Calendar icon December 21, 2023
Understanding the Potential Complications of Whiplash


  • Whiplash is an injury to the soft tissue of the neck caused by sudden acceleration or deceleration.
  • Whiplash often heals very quickly on its own, but more severe complications of whiplash may develop days or even weeks after the accident.
  • Car accidents often cause whiplash.
  • Whiplash can be complicated to prove in court, so it’s important to work with an experienced attorney when filing a claim.

Even when it feels like you’re traveling at slow speeds, a car still moves much faster than a human body can manage on its own. When that car stops suddenly – whether from a sudden application of the brakes or a collision – your head keeps going until your neck stops it. 

Whiplash, a strain to the neck caused by a sudden change in momentum, is one of the most common injuries associated with motor vehicle travel, with an estimated 3 million cases per year in the United States. The immediate symptoms can be painful, but there may also be hidden effects that can linger for years.

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to the neck or upper spine caused by sudden movement. It’s not a specific injury type but rather a range of symptoms with a similar cause. These are called whiplash-associated disorders.

Whiplash Grades

Whiplash-associated disorders are often classified using a system developed by the Quebec Task Force that assigns a grade based on the severity of symptoms.

  • Grade 0 whiplash causes no pain or other symptoms to the neck.
  • Grade I whiplash involves patient complaints of pain or stiffness of the neck.
  • Grade II whiplash includes pain, stiffness, and musculoskeletal signs of injury.
  • Grade III whiplash includes pain, signs of injury, and neurological symptoms.
  • Grade IV whiplash, the most severe kind, includes a fracture in the vertebrae of the neck.

Short-Term and Long-Term Complications of Whiplash

After a car accident or other accident, you may experience pain, stiffness, or other symptoms in the neck. Most whiplash symptoms fade within a few weeks, but you may also experience lingering or permanent complications as a result of your accident.

Short-Term Complications

Many symptoms of whiplash are uncomfortable but will heal on their own within a few weeks. Common short-term effects of whiplash include:

  • Neck pain: Mild pain in the neck is the most common symptom of whiplash.
  • Stiffness: Whiplash can cause muscle tightness and neck stiffness.
  • Limited range of motion: Whiplash can restrict your ability to turn your head, look up or down, and perform everyday activities comfortably.
  • Headaches: Headaches caused by whiplash can range from mild dull aches to sharp pain.
  • Dizziness and vertigo: Feeling lightheaded or off-balance is common, particularly in the initial days after the injury.
  • Tingling or numbness: Whiplash can compress your nerves, leading to feelings of tingling or numbness in the arms and hands.

Long-Term Complications

While many symptoms improve within days or weeks, for some, whiplash causes long-term effects that may not emerge until long after the accident. Some of these effects include:

  • Chronic pain: The neck and spinal pain from whiplash may persist for months or even years, impacting your ability to sleep, concentrate, and perform daily tasks.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): The trauma of the accident and the lingering pain and other symptoms can lead to PTSD symptoms like anxiety, depression, and flashbacks.
  • Tinnitus: Whiplash can cause lingering pain and ringing in the ears.
  • Cognitive symptoms: Whiplash can cause long-term problems with memory, concentration, and fatigue.

Influencing Factors

The intensity of the impact is a major contributing factor to the duration and severity of whiplash symptoms, but other factors can influence your whiplash as well. 

Pre-existing conditions like neck pain prior to the accident can lead to more severe whiplash, and older adults may take longer to recover. Increased levels of stress and anxiety prior to the accident may also contribute to long-term symptoms.

Diagnosing and Treating Whiplash

Whiplash is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that medical personnel will rule out other conditions that may need emergency treatment before arriving at a whiplash diagnosis.

Healthcare providers will accomplish this with physical examinations, like assessing your range of motion or pain levels, and imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans.

Treatment Options

Whiplash cannot be cured. Instead, the goal is to alleviate symptoms and provide support for the neck to heal as quickly and safely as possible. Treatment options for complications of whiplash include:

  • Physical therapy to improve neck flexibility, strength, and range of motion.
  • Medication to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Alternative options like acupuncture or massage may provide additional methods of relief from pain and other complications of whiplash.

Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial for the best long-term outcomes. Complications of whiplash can develop over time, and the longer you wait for treatment, the deeper these complications can develop.

After a car crash or other accident, seek medical attention right away, even if you’re not in pain.

Legal Aspects of Whiplash Injuries

Complications of whiplash may not be physically visible and may not appear until days or even weeks after the initial accident. This can make filing a personal injury lawsuit challenging. 

With proper documentation and legal representation, you may be able to recover compensation for damages including:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • And more

Working with an experienced personal injury lawyer is key to recovering damages related to complications of whiplash. They can help you identify and gather relevant evidence, build a strong case, negotiate with insurance companies, and file your lawsuit. 

Contact an Experienced Whiplash Attorney to Learn More

If you or a loved one is suffering from complications of whiplash, and you believe someone else is at fault, get in touch with an experienced whiplash attorney like the team at Werner, Hoffman & Greig. We can help you through the recovery process, protect your rights, and fight for the compensation you deserve.

To learn more about how we can help or to schedule a free case evaluation, please contact us online or at (800) 320-HELP

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do I have to file a whiplash injury claim in New York?

In New York State, you typically have three years after the date of the accident to file a whiplash injury claim. Some exceptions may apply, so be sure to contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options.

Can whiplash symptoms appear days after an accident?

Yes, complications of whiplash may not appear until days or even weeks after an accident. This is especially true for more serious, long-term symptoms like chronic pain. 

You should seek medical attention right away, even if you don’t feel any symptoms. Early intervention can lead to better outcomes, and the medical record will be useful if you want to file a claim. 

What should I document for my whiplash injury claim? 

Gather all medical records, including doctor’s notes, imaging test results, and treatment plan. You should also obtain copies of any accident reports and evidence collected at the scene of the accident.

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Content checked by the personal injury attorney Ross Cellino. As a family man and a trial attorney, I pride myself on winning cases and serving the community. With over 35 years of experience, I understand the function of a jury, how juries arrive at conclusions, and the role that the jury plays in administering justice. I know how to win cases. You can find us in Manhattan, Buffalo, Melville, Rochester, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and other locations throughout New York.



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