What Is Whiplash? A Common Car Accident Injury Explained

As a note: Always consult with a physician about any potential whiplash injury or pain. General discussion about whiplash is not medical advice.

Whiplash is an injury generally caused by a moderate to severe back-to-front jerk to the head. It can cause severe injury that can result in chronic head, neck, or back pain and require medical attention. Less serious whiplash injuries can be more manageable, with pain symptoms that resolve in just a few days or weeks.

Occupants involved in car accidents often experience whiplash injuries. The neck can jerk back and forth due to the force exerted on the car in the event of a crash.

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries sustained during a car accident.

Whiplash is a common injury often suffered during a motor-vehicle accident. Research has shown that more than three million whiplash injuries occur in the U.S. each year that can be attributed to car accidents.

Whiplash injury can vary in severity. Serious whiplash injuries that result in significant neck and head pain are often the result of moderate to higher speed car crashes, or other serious trauma.

Serious whiplash injuries can still occur at low speeds. Even sustaining a car crash at just a few miles per hour can cause your head and neck to whip back and forth and even some swirling of the brain.

No matter the severity of your car accident, you may have head, neck, and back pain relating to whiplash or a more serious injury such as a concussion, some sort of traumatic brain injury (no matter how slight) disc injury, herniation or other neck and back injuries. To be more specific, some of these symptoms may include:

  •         Neck stiffness
  •         Head, neck, or back pain when moving
  •         Range of motion loss
  •         Headaches
  •         Tingling or numbness in arms
  •         Fatigue
  •         Dizziness
  •         Blurred Vision

If you need medical attention for whiplash in the immediate aftermath of a car accident, be sure to seek help right away. Pain resulting from whiplash can intensify over time.

Airbags are an important safety feature that has shown to reduce the effects of whiplash during an accident.

The advent and increasing use of airbags generally work to prevent severe whiplash. An airbag works by inflating immediately upon impact of a vehicle into another vehicle, or into an object. Airbags have tiny holes that release air as soon as it becomes inflated. Deflation is key—if the airbags remain fully inflated, your head may slam against them just as it would against any other surface. The airbags deflate such that they cushion the head and prevent it from moving dramatically back and forth or side to side.

Front airbags have been required by federal law in all new passenger vehicles since 1999. Side airbags are not officially mandated, but nearly all new vehicles come equipped with them. New model year vehicles are for the most part safer than ever before, due in part to airbags.

Statistically, older vehicles are less safe. Cars older than 1999 may not even have frontal airbags. If you own a car without frontal airbags, and it is financially feasible to purchase a new vehicle, based on injury statistics alone you should strongly consider buying one. Whiplash, and other injuries, can be far more serious if you are involved in an accident in an older vehicle without modern safety devices.

Head restraints can also help prevent significant whiplash injuries.

When you think of car safety, you probably don’t think about head restraints. But head restraints—often called head rests—play an important role in reducing the effects of whiplash.

Head restrains are attached to the top of each seat to limit the rearward movement of an occupant’s head relative to the rest of their body in a car crash. They are designed to mitigate whiplash—but some automakers do better than others in this regard.

The IIHS states that neck and head injury risk is lower if head restraints are rated as “Good” or better by their internal rating system. Vehicles rated with “Good” or better head restraints resulted in thirty-five percent fewer insurance claims for neck pain after an accident. The IIHS evaluate and compare the geometry of the head restraints in relation to size, shape, and distance from occupant on an annual basis. Be sure to check the IIHS car safety awards to identify cars which meet the “Good” head restraint standard as of 2022. You can use the IIHS database to search vehicles from years past to learn if your car meets the “Good” safety standard. 

Whiplash commonly occurs as the result of a car accident. If you experience whiplash and sustain accident-related injuries, you may have the right to file an injury claim to receive compensation.

Whiplash often occurs as the result of a car accident. Fortunately, if you drive a newer car, you may experience only moderate to minor head, neck, and back pain due to increased safety features like airbags and head restraints.

That said, whiplash, and the pain resulting from whiplash, can happen to anybody regardless of the car they drive. It is important to seek medical attention should you experience pain caused by whiplash.

Just as with other injuries caused by a car accident, you may be able to recover compensation for whiplash and related pain.  If you have questions concerning taking legal action, seek counsel as soon as possible.  Penney and Associates is a highly experienced personal injury firm based in California.

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

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