Motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of long-term neck pain in the U.S. today, with over 800,000 injury cases annually. If you are experiencing neck pain after a car crash, a traumatic injury such as whiplash, a spinal fracture, or herniated disc can be the problem.
Even though modern vehicles have life-saving features such as seat belts and airbags, unfortunately, they don’t properly secure or protect the neck and head in a collision. While the rest of the body stays strapped to a car seat with little space to move, the head and neck move freely according to the vehicle’s motion. The neck’s delicate structures can violently move in several directions—backward, forward, or side to side.
The swift motion of a collision can stretch, tear, and severely injure any part of the neck, leading to pain and other symptoms that might last for six weeks or longer after the accident.
Suppose you suffered a neck injury in a motor vehicle collision. In that case, seek the best medical and legal help available. You deserve financial recovery for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, and a personal injury lawyer can help you get it.
What Motor Vehicle Collisions Can Cause Neck Injuries?
All motor vehicle accidents can cause neck injuries—even at seemingly low speeds that cause minimal damage to the vehicles involved.
For example, just because a car accident happened in a parking lot at a low speed or was a minor fender bender doesn’t mean that neck injuries can’t result.
- Rear-end collisions occur when one vehicle crashes into the vehicle in front of it. They usually occur because of driver inattention or distraction, following too closely, and poor road or weather conditions.
- Side-impact collisions are also known as broadside or T-bone collisions. They happen when the side of one or more vehicles hits another. These collisions typically occur in parking lots, intersections, or when two vehicles pass on a roadway.
- Rollover accidents usually occur in SUVs, vans, or large trucks with high centers of gravity. These vehicles flip over onto the roof or roll several times, often causing the ejection of occupants. Wearing seat belts reduces the risk of injury significantly, but victims are still at risk of neck injuries.
- Head-on collisions are extremely serious. They happen when the front ends of two vehicles hit each other, traveling in opposite directions.
Car Accident Claims for Neck Injuries
When someone else is responsible for your neck injury, you can hold them liable for your injury-related losses by filing an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. The value of your neck injury claim will depend on the severity of your injury and how it affects your life.
Common damages in neck injury claims include:
- Medical bills for diagnostic tests, specialist appointments, follow-up care, physical therapy, medication, etc.
- Lost income if your neck injury prevents you from working and you lose any earnings.
- Pain and suffering, as a neck injury can cause chronic pain, movement restrictions, stiffness, and other serious effects on your everyday life.
- Permanent injuries if your neck injury will never fully heal, and you will experience ongoing pain indefinitely.
Motor vehicle accident cases involving neck injuries might also involve brain damage, paralysis, or another serious injury, which will increase the value of your claim. You want a car accident lawyer who understands how severe neck injuries can be, so they will seek every dollar you deserve for your losses.
Types of Neck Injuries
The neck protects the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body and supports the head. A motor vehicle collision can result in various medical issues in the neck area, which may also strike other body parts.
Some potential neck injuries include:
- Soft tissue injuries in the neck occur when a car accident hyperextends or stretches the muscles, ligaments, or tendons.
- Whiplash is a general term for when the neck and head violently snap back and forth. Whiplash may also indicate injury to the bones of the neck.
- Herniated discs occur when the discs between the bones of your neck partially slip out of place into your spinal canal, causing severe and chronic discomfort and pain.
- Facet joint injury—the facet joints in the cervical spine assist with head and neck stabilization and mobility. The forceful impact of a car collision often inflames and irritates the neck’s facet joints. Car accidents can also injure surrounding ligaments, which can damage the neck joints’ movement and range of motion. In addition, facet joint injuries often result in immediate pain. These injuries can also lead to a degenerative spinal disorder called facet joint syndrome, which can become debilitating if someone does not receive proper treatment.
- Cervical dislocation or fracture happens when a car crash knocks the bones of your neck out of place or breaks them. Neck fractures are particularly painful. Don’t move without medical assistance if you think you might have a fracture. Doing so can injure your spinal cord resulting in paralysis.
- Spinal cord injury (SCI) can occur with an abrupt vertebral fracture or dislocation. The vertebrae can tear or sever the spinal cord, possibly resulting in paralysis or even death.
- Cuts and lacerations are caused by flying debris, glass, or objects hitting the neck, resulting in cuts, lacerations, abrasions, and bruising. Deep cuts or lacerations can even damage the neck ligaments and tendons.
- Muscle spasms happen when the neck’s soft tissues randomly contract and release, typically leading to pain, swelling, and stiffness. Muscle spasms frequently indicate a more extensive muscle injury, such as a neck sprain. These painful and sometimes debilitating spasms might last up to two weeks. If they continue longer than one month, you should seek medical re-evaluation.
Symptoms of Neck Injuries After a Car Accident
Neck injury symptoms can vary based on the particular type and extent of the injury.
Symptoms of neck injury might include:
- Problems turning your head
- Pain or stiffness in your neck
- Pain that radiates to the shoulders, arms, and hands
- Constant or shooting pain in your legs or arms
- Inability to move parts of your body or weakness in various body parts
- Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms, hands, and fingers
Not all neck injury symptoms show up right away after a car accident.
Delayed symptoms of neck injuries can include:
- Weakness or inability to lift fairly lightweight objects
- Pain or pinching sensations in the shoulders, neck, or back
- Decreased vision or hearing
- Developing feelings of anxiety, stress, or inexplicable panic
Doctors can use many tools to evaluate and diagnose neck injuries. They usually begin with a clinical evaluation which involves asking you questions, ordering imaging such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and sometimes ordering lab work to rule out other diagnoses.
Your doctor might ask you the following questions to help accurately diagnose and treat your neck injury:
- Do you have a history of neck or back pain or injury?
- Where is the pain located?
- How severe is the pain on a scale of one to ten?
- What kind of motor vehicle collision were you involved in? For example, was it a rear-end accident or a side impact accident?
- When did the accident happen?
- How fast were the cars going at the time of impact?
- What other symptoms are you experiencing besides pain?
While it can be difficult to relive some of these details, your answers will help your medical team determine the nature and severity of your injury and create the best treatment plan possible for your specific needs. Be sure to answer these questions openly and honestly, with as much detail as you can provide.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Get medical attention as soon as possible to document the nature and severity of your neck injuries. If you fail to get timely medical care, you can unintentionally lose your right to pursue compensation from the at-fault party to the accident. You might have to pay for your injuries out of your pocket for the rest of your life if you cannot prove your accident-related neck injuries to the insurance company.
If EMTs at the accident scene advise you to go to the hospital in the ambulance, it’s best to heed their advice. Even if you can walk away from the accident scene or lack any symptoms or pain, it’s in your best interest to be seen by a medical provider as soon as possible—whether you go to an urgent care center, the emergency department, or your own physician.
Just because you don’t experience pain or other symptoms right away doesn’t mean you didn’t suffer any injuries. Sometimes accident victims don’t notice pain or other problems due to a post-accident adrenaline rush or the fight or flight response. Other times, symptoms can naturally take some time to show up as the injury progresses.
Neck Injury Effects
Since such a wide range of symptoms and conditions can arise from a car accident neck injury, its effects also range widely. Some injured individuals may experience minor discomfort and inconvenience for a few weeks or months. Others may see their lives permanently damaged.
A neck sprain or other soft tissue injury will often cause pain and stiffness for several days or weeks. Treatment typically includes pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory drugs and applying heat. If symptoms continue, physical therapy or other treatments may become necessary.
Whiplash, fractured vertebrae and herniated cervical discs will need more involved treatments. For example, you may need prescription medications, physical or occupational therapy, and surgery to reduce or relieve the significant pain and disability these conditions cause.
A broken neck is seriously concerning. In conjunction with a spinal cord injury, broken neck vertebrae can cause total or partial paralysis. If warranted, quick medical interventions, including surgery, are often essential to ensure the best outcome for a neck injury victim.
Chronic neck pain can negatively affect all areas of someone’s life. For example, those suffering from long-term neck injuries may find it challenging to participate in vigorous activities, concentrate at work, or sleep well. Chronic pain is often isolating and may result in depression, anxiety, and anger.
Are You Suffering From a Neck Injury? Seek Legal Help Today
If you were recently in a car accident and are experiencing pain or other symptoms, see a doctor right away if you haven’t already. Then, make an appointment to discuss your accident and injuries with an experienced car accident attorney. Your attorney can help you pursue compensation from the at-fault party to help pay for your damages. Don’t hesitate to get legal help today for your neck injury and any other severe car accident injuries you suffered.