How to Tell If You Have Whiplash After a Car Accident

A man dealing with whiplash

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Getting into a car accident is easily one of the most stressful, frightening things you can do — and it gets even more stressful if you find yourself injured or in pain after the accident. People don’t realize how often this injury happens. How can you tell if you have whiplash after getting into a car crash­, and what should you do about it?

What Is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a sudden neck injury — your neck is forced backward and then forward again, putting your cervical vertebra and the connected soft tissue through many quick movements that can lead to injury. The medical community also refers to whiplash as cervical acceleration-deceleration syndrome or CAD syndrome.

Rear-end accidents are the most common causes of whiplash, but it can also happen while you’re doing other activities, like bungee jumping, riding a rollercoaster or falling while skiing. Anything that causes your head to whip back and forth quickly can potentially cause whiplash.

Symptoms of Whiplash

Whiplash might not present its symptoms immediately — it can take a few days or even weeks after an accident for you to start feeling pain from the injury. In addition to pain, you might experience:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Problems turning your head
  • Stiff neck
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Anxiety or anxious behavior

The delay in symptom presentation is why it’s so important to see a doctor as soon as possible after you’ve been in an accident. An MRI or CT scan can detect the damage caused by whiplash before the symptoms even begin to manifest, making it easier to treat. Delaying your trip to the doctor after an accident can also make it harder to prove causation if you’re making an insurance claim.

What Should You Do?

If you’ve been in an accident and suspect you might have whiplash, your first step is to seek medical attention. Go to your doctor and let them know you’ve been in an accident. Keep track of your medical documentation — especially if you intend to make an injury claim on your insurance. If your doctor prescribes a particular course of treatment, it’s harder for the insurance adjuster to argue with them, though they might try to anyway.

This argument often manifests as a request for reexamination by a doctor of the insurance company’s choosing. Known as an IME (Independent Medical Exam), this is the insurance company’s way of avoiding any payouts they don’t have to make. Unless your claim has gone to trial or you’re making a claim against your insurance policy, these IMEs are unnecessary.  Don’t submit to an IME unless your case falls into one of those two categories.

Get Your Whiplash Checked Out

Whiplash is no fun, but if treated quickly it typically doesn’t leave lasting damage. If you’ve been rear-ended, even if it was at relatively low speeds, make it a point to go to the doctor and get looked over. Even if you’re not presenting symptoms, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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