Can I Get Disability for Whiplash?

If you have lasting and severe symptoms relating to whiplash, you may be able to get disability benefits.

By , Contributing Author
How old are you?

Whiplash is a neck strain or sprain that's caused by a sudden jerking motion of the head, usually seen after a person is in a car accident. (Doctors and lawyers may refer to whiplash as "acceleration flexion-extension neck injury" or "cervical hyperextension injury.")

Whiplash injuries can include damage to the joints between the vertebrae, discs, ligaments, muscles, or nerve roots. While most cases of whiplash heal with time, whiplash or whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) can sometimes lead to severe, chronic neck pain and disability.

What Symptoms Can Be Caused by Whiplash?

Some of the initial symptoms that are felt after experiencing whiplash include:

  • neck pain and/or stiffness
  • pain in the shoulders or between the shoulder blades
  • jaw pain
  • arm pain or weakness
  • lower back pain
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • ringing in the ears
  • blurred vision, and
  • sleep disturbances and fatigue.

Symptoms from whiplash can be ongoing or might appear themselves long after the accident (sometimes called late whiplash syndrome). Common long-term consequences from whiplash include:

  • headaches
  • neck aches and stiffness
  • fatigue, and
  • anxiety.

Other medical conditions that have been associated with individuals who have suffered from whiplash injuries include allergies (an immune-system disorder), breathing disorders, cardiovascular problems, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic pain syndrome.

How Long Do Whiplash Symptoms Last?

The time it takes for symptoms to go away from a whiplash injury varies greatly by person. The majority of whiplash injuries heal within six weeks after the injury. However, about one-third of people who experience whiplash report neck pain after ten years. Others have symptoms for the rest of their lives.

The initial level of pain felt within the first three weeks after the whiplash injury has been found to be a good indication of whether or not a person will recover; people who report severe pain have a decreased chance of recovering fully. Those with preexisting conditions, such as neck pain, arthritis in the neck, and headaches, generally have longer recovery times or suffer long-term effects. And in those with decreased movement in their neck after the injury, up to 75% of those individuals are still disabled after one year.

One theory about why pain lasts following whiplash is that the larger neck muscles permanently take over some of the actions that used to be performed by the smaller, injured neck muscles. Another theory is that whiplash causes muscle degeneration in some patients, which can lead to muscle weakness and reduced endurance. In either case, physical therapy following whiplash can help the strained muscles recover in a way that can prevent permanent issues.

Can I Get Social Security Disability if I Have Symptoms of Whiplash?

If you apply for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or SSI disability benefits for whiplash, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will request your medical records from your hospital and doctor visits, along with evidence from X-rays or MRIs. Whether you qualify for disability benefits depends on the signs and symptoms that are in your medical records and how they limit you.

The SSA will approve you for benefits only if you can show that you either:

  • meet or equal a listing in the Social Security "Blue Book" (which provides a list of injuries and impairments that can automatically qualify you for benefits), or
  • are unable to work any type of job due to limitations caused by pain or limited range of motion.

The Blue Book doesn't have any specific listings for neck pain, but it does include a listing for compromise of a spinal nerve root. If the impact from a car accident, with or without arthritis, has caused compression of a nerve root, you could qualify under that listing. For more information on getting disability for these musculoskeletal symptoms, see our article on disability for neck pain and neck problems and disability for soft tissue injuries.

Other common symptoms from whiplash, such as headaches and chronic fatigue, are not included in the Social Security blue book at all, but you may be able to qualify for disability because your limitations make it impossible for you to work. (Visit the above links to learn more.)

Other less commonly related conditions, such as anxiety, allergies, breathing disorders, cardiovascular problems, and digestive disorders, may qualify you for benefits under the appropriate listings for those conditions. (Visit the above links to learn more.)

How Long Do Your Symptoms Have to Last Before You Apply for Disability Benefits?

In order to receive Social Security or SSI disability benefits, you must be disabled and unable to work for at least one year. With whiplash injuries, many symptoms don't last for at least a year, or at least not at the level that they would prevent you from doing a substantial amount of work.

If your whiplash injury occurred in the last few months and you apply for benefits, Social Security will likely anticipate that your problems will dissipate within a few months and will deny your claim.

If you're still experiencing severe symptoms after nine to twelve months, you can apply then, and have a slightly better chance of getting approved for disability benefits.

If you're denied benefits even though you've had debilitating symptoms for a year, contact a disability lawyer.

For more information, see our article on getting disability benefits after a car accident.

Updated July 6, 2022

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you