Whiplash injury ranges from mild to severe and includes chronic conditions particularly for the elderly who are often vulnerable to injury in this region of the body. It can include damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, articulating joints, nerves and cartilage. In extreme circumstances the injury may require surgical intervention by fusion of the vertebrae in the neck.
Car accident solicitors in Australia inevitably use a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) to deal with personal injury claims on a no win no fee basis. Car accident solicitors using the no win no fee scheme do not get paid their legal charges and expenses unless the claim is won and you receive a compensation payment. If the case is lost there is no legal charge and the car accident solicitor must write off their legal fees and disbursements incurred on your behalf. A no win no fee compensation claim in Australia is usually risk free.
Australian awards of damages in a whiplash neck injury compensation claim include sums for pain and suffering, loss of amenity in the usual pleasures of life, disadvantage on the job market, loss of wages both past and estimated for the future together with all reasonable expenses and other losses.
There has been a lot of speculation over the years about the mechanics of this injury to the neck (cervical spine). The general consensus of medical opinion is that a rear end collision causes the victims body to be propelled forwards at speed, however the flexibility of the neck ensures that the head, which is heavy, does not keep up with the bodys forward motion thus causing trauma and stretching to the neck muscles. Once the musculature has stretched to the limit, the head then moves forward and in an over compensatory reflex motion causes further stretching. The effect of this motion is to rock the head violently backwards and moments later to rock the head violently forwards. Muscles that are stretched to their limits are often damaged by bruising and tearing and the trauma of rapid acceleration/deceleration may also affect other structural elements within the neck. The overall effect of this trauma is to produce swelling which may impact on the nerves causing further pain and discomfort. This injury can be further exacerbated and hyper-flexion injuries (the head and neck bending too far backwards and/or forwards) with a rotational element which causes even more serious injury are common.
Whiplash symptoms are characterised by discomfort that occurs following damage to the neck usually as a result of a sudden moderate to severe strain affecting the bones, discs, muscles, nerves, or tendons of the neck, which is composed of seven small bones known as the cervical spine. The injury is caused by a sudden jerk such as in a road traffic accident but may also occur in other types of accident. The head is violently thrown back, forwards or sideways followed by reflex contraction in the opposite direction. Swelling and inflammation occur which leads to pressure being placed on the nerves. Diagnosis can be difficult because X rays and scans do not always reveal the injury and is usually based on observation of symptoms, medical history and physical examination.
The symptoms of whiplash injury vary from person to person due to differing injury and differing physiques. Some more severe injuries will cause muscle tears resulting in uncomfortable burning pain, prickling or tingling sensations and even more severe injury may cause disc damage resulting in sharp pain with certain movements often with pain radiating into the arms, hand and fingers. Most people who suffer from this injury will complain of whiplash symptoms including neck pain, which typically starts up to two days after the accident. Most people will also complain of variable headaches which are usually the result of tensed muscles trying to keep the head stable and are often felt behind the eyes. Shoulder pain often radiates down the back of the neck into the shoulder blade area and is also usually the result of tensed muscles. Following an accident there is often general neck pain which may be present directly or may develop gradually over hours, days or weeks after the injury. Pain and stiffness is caused by muscle spasms. Whiplash symptoms may include:-
- pain or stiffness of the neck, back, jaw, shoulders, or arms
- headache and dizziness
- loss of feeling, or burning or prickling in an arm or hand
- nausea or vomiting
- psychological conditions including memory loss, concentration impairment, nervousness, irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue and depression
The treating healthcare professional should take a systematic approach to establishing a diagnosis by observation and assessment of the whiplash symptoms before recommending appropriate whiplash treatment as follows :-
- patient history
- working diagnosis
- treatment plan
Whiplash treatment following a car accident may include analgesics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, muscle relaxants and a cervical collar usually worn only for a short period of time. Exercises, physical therapy and traction together with heat application may relieve muscle tension. The neck and head pain usually clears eventually however some people may continue to have residual neck pain, discomfort and headaches for a long period and in some cases the injury may become chronic with no possibility of full recovery. A whiplash injury settlement in chronic disabling cases can be substantial especially if there is need for long term care. Each patient is different and whiplash treatment is unique to each injury and is directed at the problems detected during medical examination – whiplash treatment may also involve:-
- spinal manipulation which is used to treat joint dysfunction and consists of gently moving the involved joint into the direction in which it is restricted
- muscle relaxation or stimulation is the main treatment for muscular dysfunction and involves stretching the muscle – finger pressure may be applied to trigger points to relieve pain
- specific McKenzie exercises are specifically designed to reduce disc derangement and consist of simple exercises to help the patient to take an active role in recovery
- stabilization or sensorimotor exercise is designed to correct movement patterns in the routine activities of everyday life and they train the nervous system to coordinate and control movement patterns, and improve the stability of the neck
This injury used to be treated with immobilization in a cervical collar however early mobilization is now encouraged and a soft collar is only used for the short term or on an intermittent basis. An early return to work is usually recommended with temporary modifications to any physical work. The modern approach to whiplash treatment is that rest is the worst possible treatment as in the long term it prolongs pain as a result of:-
- loss of physical fitness
- stiffening of muscles
- worsening of the pain
- depression and irritability
- difficulty getting moving