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Whiplash: What you need to know

Imagine you are driving home from work or heading out to the grocery in your car. It seems like a typical, routine trip when you stop at an intersection and wait for the light to turn green. Suddenly, you see a flash in your rear-view mirror and before you realize what is happening, you are rear-ended and your body is violently thrown forward and then slammed back.

You may be able to get out of your car, assess the damage and exchange insurance information with the other driver. You may go back home, glad to be safe but are still understandably shaken after the crash. But what many people may not realize is that there could still be serious health concerns that they may need to worry about, including whiplash.

Whiplash occurs when a person's neck is severely jerked or damaged in an accident. According to the North American Spine Society, the neck is made up of several bones, muscles and ligaments that aid mobility and support. In a serious accident, any number of these parts can be crushed, strained, compressed or otherwise injured as a result of the impact. In some cases, the injuries are minor and will heal on their own. In other cases, the damage is more severe.

Because there are so many different ways the parts of a neck can be injured in a crash, the impact of whiplash can vary widely. In the more serious cases, people might experience restricted mobility, debilitating migraines, memory problems and difficulty focusing. Sufferers also can develop depression or trouble sleeping as a result of this type of injury.

Treatment options for whiplash are widely available and they can be very effective. However, they can be costly; and if a person's ability to work has been hampered by a neck injury, paying for treatment can seem all but impossible. That is why it is important to remember that compensation may be available for victims of whiplash injuries. Even when the accident seems minor or there is no visible damage, the pain of a car accident can linger on indefinitely. Getting medical attention and appropriate treatment can be essential in recovering -- at least physically -- from a crash.

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