Medically speaking, whiplash, also known as a neck strain, is a neck injury caused by the forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of one’s neck. Most people suffer this type of injury after being rear-ended in a traffic accident, but it can also result from sports accidents and certain types of physical trauma. When someone suffers a neck strain, it can adversely affect their intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots. And it can sometimes leave them in excruciating pain, which usually presents several hours or even days after sustaining the injury. To appreciate how prevalent neck strain injuries are in the U.S., we need only look at an article published by Linkedin. It revealed that around 3 million Americans suffer a neck strain injury each year. Of those 3 million, 50% struggle with chronic pain. Meanwhile, 10% become permanently disabled and need round-the-clock care and support with mobility issues.
Who Is Most Likely To Suffer a Whiplash Injury?
Under the right circumstances, anyone can suffer a whiplash injury. But some people are undoubtedly more susceptible to them than others. According to an article published by the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center in Cleveland, Ohio, older adults, particularly those aged 65 and over, and women are the demographics of people most at risk of suffering such an injury. The article notes this is because most older adults are simultaneously suffering from other comorbidities, such as bone deterioration and weak muscles. For women, the risk of a neck strain or whiplash injury has more to do with the female anatomy. Some of those risk factors based solely on female anatomy include
Height – The average height in the U.S. is 5’4″ for women. According to information published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, a woman’s shorter sitting height increases the likelihood of her head interacting with the bottom of the head restraint when rear-ended in an accident. That interaction elevates her chances of suffering a neck strain injury.
Neck size – Women have significantly smaller necks than men. The length of a woman’s neck is about 2.7% shorter than that of a man’s, and the circumference is an estimated 16.6% smaller. Long story short, because of its smaller size, a woman’s neck can’t handle the forceful, back-and-forth movement responsible for neck strain injuries the way a man’s neck can.
Muscle and strength – Women are not as strong and certainly do not have the same musculature men have. That means their chances of falling victim to a neck strain injury are much higher than a man’s.
Common Whiplash-Related Symptoms
Neck strain symptoms can vary in type and severity depending on how badly the neck is hyperextended or compressed in an accident. It is also worth noting that some symptoms can present immediately following an accident, and others can take days or weeks to appear. Along with neck pain, symptoms typical of most neck strain injuries include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Chronic fatigue
- Jaw pain
- Reduced range of motion in the head and neck
- Pain that radiates from the shoulders, upper back, or arms
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Assessing the Severity of Whiplash-Related Symptoms
Because everyone experiences neck strain differently, most physicians use a grading system known as the Quebec Classification of Whiplash-Associated Disorders to assess and document the severity of an individual’s whiplash-related symptoms. The grading system includes
Grade 0 – At this stage, someone has sustained a neck injury but is asymptomatic.
Grade 1 – At this stage, most people who have suffered a neck strain injury typically report mild generalized pain. Many also complain of tenderness and neck stiffness.
Grade 2 – At this stage, most people who have suffered a neck strain injury typically report experiencing head, face, shoulder, and back pain. Many also complain of muscle spasms and neck stiffness. Most also have visible signs of injury, such as bruising, swelling, or both.
Grade 3 – At this stage, along with symptoms associated with grades 0 through 3, most individuals are simultaneously struggling with neurological symptoms. The more notable of these include the following:
Burning or tingling sensation in the neck, upper back, or shoulders
Dizziness or vertigo
Numbness and muscle weakness
Grade 4 – During this stage, most people experience the same symptoms associated with grades 0 through 3 but with one notable difference. The neurological symptoms are a lot more intense. Unusually intense neurological symptoms following neck strain injury are often the result of a fractured or out-of-alignment vertebra or vertebrae pressing against the spinal cord or nearby nerves.
How Is Whiplash Diagnosed?
In addition to reviewing a patient’s medical history and conducting a hands-on physical exam, physicians rely on imaging tests to help them determine whether or not that patient has suffered a neck strain injury. The most commonly used ones include
Magnetic resonance imaging – Commonly referred to as an MRI, magnetic resonance imaging uses powerful magnets and a computer to capture detailed images of a patient’s organs and soft tissue structures.
X-rays – This form of imaging uses electromagnetic energy beams to capture images of bones, tissue, and organs that go onto film, which are reviewed by a physician, radiologist, or both.
Computed tomography – Commonly referred to as a CT scan, computed tomography scans are longitudinal X-rays that create a 3D image of internal structures in the body. They allow radiologists and physicians to see possible ligament tears and other soft-tissue injuries commonly associated with neck strain injuries.
Neck strain injury treatments can vary immensely depending on an individual’s symptoms, age, overall health, and extent of their injury. That all said, some of the most common treatments consist of prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. Prescription muscle relaxants and nerve blocks are also routinely prescribed to treat neck strain injuries. Aside from over-the-counter and prescription-based medications, surgery and physical therapy are also among the treatment options sometimes recommended by physicians to individuals who have suffered a neck strain injury.
Why You Should File a Whiplash Compensation Claim
Following a traffic collision that results in a neck strain injury, you can quickly find yourself in a mountain of debt.. That debt can include medical bills and the cost involved in repairing or replacing your damaged vehicle. Filing a compensation claim is the first step toward receiving a settlement or pursuing a personal injury lawsuit and being awarded damages to help ease some of that debt. Bearing that in mind, let’s take a moment to learn about the difference between filing a compensation claim and bringing a personal injury lawsuit before a court. In short, a compensation claim is a demand made by the individual injured in an accident to be compensated by the party legally responsible for causing their injury. Meanwhile, a personal injury lawsuit is a civil action in which an individual injured in an accident argues their case before a court in the hopes of being awarded damages.
Filing a Compensation Claim
Filing a compensation claim following a neck strain injury is a multi-step process. Per Texas law, those steps include
Filing a complaint – Also commonly referred to as filing a petition, filing a complaint sets everything in motion as it entails the plaintiff officially informing the defendant of their plans to file a personal injury lawsuit. The complaint generally consists of a summary of what happened in the accident and a list of damages.
Serving of the complaint – This part of filing a compensation claim is where the plaintiff provides the defendant with a copy of the original complaint and a summons to appear in court. It is worth mentioning that time is of the essence as it relates to this aspect of the compensation claim filing process. The reason why is a plaintiff only has 30 days to serve the complaint, according to Texas law. The defendant, by the way, has 21 days to file a response.
Waiting for the defendant to respond – Sometimes, a defendant will take the entire 21 days allowed to file a response after being served a complaint, but sometimes, they will respond sooner. Either way, the plaintiff will have to wait until they do. Texas state law requires that a defendant officially affirm or deny the allegations in the copy of the complaint received by the plaintiff before the plaintiff can pursue other aspects of the compensation claim.
Filing discovery documents – This aspect of filing a compensation claim involves the plaintiff and defendant exchanging photos, sworn statements from witnesses, police reports, medical reports, and other documents. Discovery helps the plaintiff establish liability and gives the defendants some insights into the evidence the plaintiff has so they can prepare a strong defense, which will benefit them when negotiating a settlement or arguing their side of a personal injury case in court.
Often, individuals not represented by an attorney will make the mistake of accepting a whiplash settlement offer without considering the full scope of their losses. For example, they might underestimate the cost of physical therapy or chiropractic treatments necessary to heal from their neck strain injury. If the negotiated settlement doesn’t fully cover that care, there is no option to renegotiate a new settlement later. A personal injury attorney can help you determine the correct compensation amount you should pursue based on the specifics of your case. From there, they can negotiate a settlement where you receive fair compensation for current and future medical expenses. The same applies to loss of wages and property damage.
What Happens if a Settlement Amount Can’t Be Agreed Upon?
If the plaintiff and defendant involved in a case can’t agree on an amicable settlement amount, the only option is to go to trial and argue the case before a judge and jury. In court, the plaintiff and the defendant will each argue their case, sharing with the judge and jury documents exchanged during discovery. After doing so, the judge or jury will deliberate and return a verdict. If that verdict comes back in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant will have to pay the damages to the defendant. If the defendant wins, they will not have to pay damages, and the plaintiff will be solely responsible for any losses resulting from the collision.
In summary, one of the best things you can do following a traffic collision resulting in a neck strain injury is to contact an attorney as soon as possible. And that’s because filing a compensation claim, negotiating a settlement, and arguing a personal injury case in a court of law are all complicated. While you could file a compensation claim, negotiate a settlement with a defendant, and even represent yourself in a personal injury case, doing so might not be the best idea as it may ruin your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve. To that end, if you have suffered a neck strain injury, consider contacting Haney Paschal & Romoser, a full-service law firm in Huntsville, Texas specializing in personal injury claims.