How long will my whiplash recovery take?
Whiplash injuries vary dramatically in terms of severity and the impact they have on victims’ lives. Most whiplash victims recover within a few months but some injuries can take over six months to get better.
One study found that after one month, 62% of participants with whiplash injuries were without pain and 79% had gone back to work. After three months, 71% of participants were pain free and 86% had returned to work.
There are several different factors which can affect how long a recovery from whiplash will take.
A major factor which will affect the severity of the injury is the severity of the vehicle collision that causes it. This is dependent on things like the speed the vehicle is travelling at the time of the collision, what type of vehicles are involved, whether the victim was wearing a seatbelt and how their head restraint was adjusted. The faster the car is travelling, the more severe the injuries caused are likely to be. If the driver and passengers are wearing seatbelts and have properly adjusted head restraints, this will minimise the injuries. An improperly adjusted head restraint is one of the major factors in causing whiplash injuries. If it is too low, the head can go up and over the head restraint, causing strain on the neck. The more severe the injuries caused, the longer your whiplash recovery will take.
A key factor in predicting just how long your whiplash recovery will take is the level of pain within three weeks of the injury. A study found that those who rated their pain as less than 5 on a 10 point pain scale were more likely to recover quickly. Those who were still experiencing pain of above 5 were more likely to be suffering from chronic whiplash, which is where the symptoms last for more than six months.
Another factor which has an effect of whiplash recovery time is victim expectations. A study at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm in 2005 found that participants who had low expectations of recovery were more likely to have a longer recovery, even taking into account physical symptoms and other factors. Participants with a more positive attitude towards recovery were found to have a speedier recovery.
Your whiplash recovery may be complicated by any pre-existing conditions such as cervical spine instability, hypermobility (or double-jointedness), cervical spondylosis (abnormal wear on the neck) or discal lesion.
Any other injuries that occur at the same time as your whiplash injury may also complicate your recovery. Many people who experience whiplash injuries also experience chest pain or bruising on the chest because of the restraining force of their seatbelt in a collision.
You should speak to your doctor about your whiplash injury. He or she will be able to give you advice on how long your recovery will be and what you can do to speed it up. Your programme of treatment is likely to include some neck exercises, as well as pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication.
A whiplash injury can have a major impact on your everyday life and your work. You may need to take time off work, particularly if your job requires you to be very mobile. Keeping your neck mobile is important for an effective recovery but you don’t want to push yourself too far too soon. Keeping mobile is also likely to be very painful at first so this may affect what you can do at work.
Speak to your employer about how your whiplash injury will affect your work. They should put into place measures to aid your rehabilitation. This may mean that your duties are changed short-term, for example, changing from manual work to desk-based work for the duration of your recovery. You may also want to think about how you can complete tasks without straining your neck and how you can improve your posture. Sitting in the same position all day is not a good idea, even without a neck injury. By keeping your neck mobile, you will be strengthening its muscles, which will help your recovery.
You may want to speak to a solicitor about making a claim for compensation, particularly if your whiplash recovery is lengthy and your work and everyday activities have been affected by your injury. For a claim for compensation to be successful, you will need medical evidence and details of the impact the injury has had on your life. A solicitor with specialist knowledge of this area will be able to guide you through the process of making a claim and help you to achieve maximum compensation.
Whiplash injuries can be extremely painful and limiting and recovery can be lengthy. Each case needs to be considered individually to determine the best way forward and it is important not to generalise or trivialise whiplash injuries or to assume that recovery will be quick.