How Does Whiplash Occur?
Whiplash occurs when the head is jolted forward and snaps back (such as when you’re hit from behind in a car) or even severe sideways movements can cause whiplash injuries. The sudden movement in the neck damages the delicate tendons and ligaments and can be very painful with many additional symptoms other than a sore neck.
Compensation Claims for whiplash injuries have risen in the UK in recent years as people are made aware of their right to financial compensation for the pain they have suffered. Insurers and the government have attempted to curb the number of whiplash claims despite people being entitled make a claim under UK law.
Whiplash isn’t just suffered from car accidents, any sudden movement of the head and neck can cause whiplash injuries but it is one of the most common injuries as a result of road traffic accidents. It is often overlooked as a trivial injury but a study on Whiplash Recovery Time showed that 71% of people had some symptoms over 7 years after sustaining their injury and that it took two years for whiplash to stabilise.
“After 18 – 24 months, almost all patients [with moderate injury] will have reached functional recovery, although some report recovery up to five years later.” (Ameis, 1986)
Long Term Effects of Whiplash
Whiplash can last a few days following a slight bumper to bumper car collision and pain in the neck and upper back may be combined with headaches. After a more serious accident there can be severe pain and difficult moving the neck and head and full symptoms may only present themselves a day or two after the impact with initial indications of an injury being felt 12 hours after that accident.
Serious whiplash injuries can last for months and in rare occasions the symptoms may never fully disappear. The pain and stiffness in the neck can be accompanied with upper or lower back pain, severe headaches, sleepless nights and affected vision among other symptoms.
Long Term Whiplash Symptoms
If whiplash lasts longer than 6 months then it’s usually referred to as chronic whiplash and treated with prescribed painkillers and physiotherapy. Milder cases of whiplash are treated with paracetamol or anti-inflammatory pills such as ibuprofen and symptoms usually subside within a few weeks. It is advisable to try and keep the head and neck mobile rather than put in a brace as this can aid the healing process.
If you think you’ve suffered whiplash injuries then you should visit your GP. Although there is no way to confirm whiplash symptoms, with scans or x-rays, the GP can make a record of the symptoms should you ever want to make a claim for your whiplash injury and they can refer you to a physiotherapist for more serious injuries.
Calculate how much you could claim
Claiming for Whiplash Injuries
Whiplash injuries that heal within 6 months can be granted typically around £1400 in compensation for the pain and suffering if you were to make a personal injury claim. Some claims settle for around £1,000 and others up to £1,500 depending on a range of factors. Whiplash injuries that last between 6 and 12 months are usually awarded around £2,850 but again, it could be more or less depending on whether there have been headaches, travel anxiety and so on.
For more serious cases of whiplash that last over 12 months or for permanent mild whiplash pain, the typical range of compensation can be anything from £5,000 to £9,000 but with the most severe instances where it’s not possible to work or continuing treatment is required, compensation may be as high as £80,000.
However, there is some disagreement among health professionals about the effectiveness of treatment and most GPs and physiotherapists will suggest keeping active and not using a neck brace will enable the quickest recovery. Additionally there isn’t sufficient evidence to show the best treatment for longer term whiplash injuries (Peloso et al 2006).
Despite this, in the more severe cases injured people should be referred to physiotherapy but it’s better if therapy begins as soon after the injury was sustained as possible. Other treatments that have shown benefits are manipulation or acupuncture and these should only ever be administrated by qualified professionals.
Symptoms of Whiplash
The symptoms can be wide ranging and may include one or more of the following:
- Neck pain
- Upper or lower back pain
- Reduced mobility of the neck
- Difficulty sleeping
- Numbness or weakness of the arms
- Weakness in the legs
- Travel anxiety
Scientific studies show whiplash injuries can be sustained at low speeds of as little as 5 miles per hour (Howard, 1998) although injury claims involving low speed impacts can be challenged by insurers. This is usually all to do with the individual circumstances of direction of impact and position in the vehicle. Additionally, the size of the passenger or driver makes a difference on the resulting injury, “A small female will experience two to four times the head linear acceleration as a larger male in the same crash. The male, however, will experience greater rearward bending.” (Croft, 2008).
Treating Whiplash Early
If you have been in an accident and think you’ve suffered a whiplash injury then you should take some immediate steps to minimise the recovery time. You can wrap some ice or a bag of frozen peas in a towel and apply to the sore areas for 20 minutes at a time and take painkillers. However, it’s advisable to see a GP for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Because whiplash symptoms may take some time to appear you might feel ok for several hours or even several days after the accident before developing some of symptoms listed above. These can last for days, weeks, or months and even years, depending on the severity of the whiplash injury.
A number of studies over the last 60 years on recommended duration of treatment for a range of moderate whiplash injuries have suggested times from several months to 3 years:
|Year of Study||Author||Treatment Length|
|1986||Ameis||6 Months to 3 Years|
|1994||Schofferma||2 Months to 2 Years|
|1994||Barnsley||3 Months to 2 Years|
|2005||Tomlinson||3 Months to 2 Years|
For milder whiplash injuries, symptoms should resolve themselves within a couple of weeks following self-medication. However, if you have suffered from several weeks of pain then you might be eligible for compensation from the third party insurer.
Whiplash is the most common injury resulting from car accidents in the UK and there are almost 1,500 whiplash claims made every day as more people are aware they are entitled to compensation under UK law. Between 30-50% of injuries have chronic symptoms requiring treatment and time off work.
Ameis, Arthur, MD; Cervical Whiplash: Considerations in the Rehabilitation of Cervical Myofascial Injury; Canadian Family Physician Volume 32, September 1986
Croft, A., 2008, 25 Years of Whiplash Research
Howard, RP., 1998, Head, neck and mandible dynamics generated by ‘whiplash’
Peloso, PM., 2006, Medicinal and injection therapies for mechanical neck disorders: a Cochrane systematic review.
Tomlinson,P.J., Gargan M.F., and Bannister, G.C.; The fluctuation in recovery following whiplash injury: 7.5-year prospective review; Injury Volume 36, Issue 6, June 2005, pp. 758-761