How Long Does Whiplash Last?

Experiencing a car accident can come with a multitude of problems, including the very common whiplash. This ailment is usually caused by being in a collision where another vehicle has hit you from behind, causing your body to jolt forward at an unexpectedly fast rate. 

Every year, over 2 million people in the United States alone experience whiplash. It can vary from minor to debilitating. The good news is, however, that most cases do clear up. But how long will you have to wait? 

What is whiplash? 

Whiplash is a neck injury, otherwise known as neck strain or sprain, that occurs when the body experiences a sudden jolting movement where the head is forcibly moved too quickly. When in a car collision, the head typically jolts forward then backwards – typically causing whiplash. 

Whiplash occurs when the joints, ligaments, and muscles of your neck are stretched beyond their usual mobility. This causes the strain and the pain that you’ll be experiencing until they heal. 

Symptoms of whiplash

Here are the most common symptoms that you might be experiencing if you are dealing with whiplash: 

  • Neck pain
  • Tenderness of the muscles in the neck
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Reduced movements, and movements that you can make are extremely painful
  • Increased headaches and migraines
  • Spasms and muscle pain in the shoulders and arms
  • Shooting pain down to the fingers

You might not experience all of these symptoms – you might only have one or two. However, that does not mean that you don’t have whiplash.

If you’ve been in an incident where your head has been thrown in a number of directions unnaturally, look out for these symptoms for the next few weeks. Whiplash is commonly known for having delayed symptoms of hours, days, or even weeks. 

No matter when you feel the pain of whiplash begin, you should get it checked out with a doctor. Here they’ll be able to give you the best course of treatment to avoid your pain disrupting your daily life too much. 

How long does whiplash take to heal?

The answer you’re looking for will depend on the severity of your strain. There are two main types of whiplash – acute and chronic. Acute whiplash is characterized by lasting less than 3 months while chronic whiplash will last for longer than 3 months. 

Don’t panic – acute whiplash is the more common of the two so don’t start planning for your next three months to be in pain. In fact, many people who have experienced whiplash have stated that their symptoms have gone away within a few days. 

Moreso, people with whiplash have seen the pain go away within 3 months. However, there are some cases of whiplash that turn to chronic pain and linger for much longer than they are welcome for. 

Studies have shown that between 12% and 50% of whiplash sufferers still have regular neck pain after a year. 

How to know if your whiplash is acute or chronic

Unfortunately, there is no easy way of knowing whether your whiplash is acute or chronic when you first experience it. The only way to know is by waiting it out and seeing if your symptoms go away within 3 months or not. 

Having said that, there are some telltale signs that might increase your risk of developing chronic whiplash. These are as follows:

  • You have intensely strong pain right from when the incident took place.
  • You can feel the pain instantly after the incident.
  • You weren’t wearing a restraint, such as a seatbelt, at the time of the incident.
  • You have shooting pain down your arms and fingers.
  • You experience neurological symptoms, such as memory loss, from the incident. 

The worse the injury is, the more likely it is that it will be chronic whiplash. However, don’t worry yourself waiting to see if the pain dissipates within three months – high anxiety levels will only make the pain worse. 

If the pain doesn’t dissipate within three months, talk to your doctor about the likelihood of your pain being chronic and what you can do about it. Here they’ll be able to give you a clear course of treatment or a plan of how to live with your pain. 

Common causes of whiplash

The most common cause of whiplash is being in a car accident. The sudden force of your vehicle colliding with something, such as another car, tree, or boulevard, can cause your head to snap back and forth to strain the muscles. 

However, it is a misconception that you can only experience whiplash in a vehicle. It can be created by anything that moves your head in an unnatural way, such as high-impact sports such as boxing, riding roller coasters, or simply falling. 

Whiplash can occur from less force than you think – many people still experience whiplash when in accidents of vehicles moving between 5 and 10 miles per hour. 

Age also comes into play when whiplash is concerned, as older people tend to experience more severe whiplash than younger people. This is due to the fact that other ailments might come into play, such as arthritis or weakened muscles of the neck. 

Who is most likely to get whiplash?

Believe it or not, there are some characteristics that can increase your chances of suffering from whiplash. These are as follows:

  • You’re a woman
  • You’re either a young child or an older person
  • You were hit from behind by another car
  • You were hit when your car was stationary
  • You have a history of neck pain
  • The accident wasn’t your fault
  • You work in a monotonous field 

Summary

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer of how long whiplash lasts as it is different for every case. Most cases are acute and will go away within 3 months, while others can be chronic lasting for years.

We hope that you’ve learned something useful in our article today. If you’re experiencing symptoms of whiplash it’s best to talk to your doctor to work out a clear course of action.