Whiplash and 11 More Common Neck Injuries From Car Accidents

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The most common car accident neck injury is whiplash. A whiplash injury is often confused with other common types of neck injuries, such as a herniated disc. If you’re experiencing neck pain or stiffness after a crash, it’s crucial to receive immediate medical treatment for a proper diagnosis.

Even though whiplash is the most common neck injury from a car accident, the trauma of a vehicle collision can cause several other types of neck injuries. Neck injuries can range from minor to severe and can have varying degrees of recovery. The best way to safely recover from a car accident neck injury and recoup the expenses you’ve lost is to seek medical treatment.

If you’ve recently begun to experience neck pain after a car accident, now is the time to explore your medical and legal options. Take a look at the 12 most common neck injuries from car accidents, and what steps you can take to recover physically and financially. 

Car Accident Neck Injury Symptoms

The symptoms of a neck injury typically begin with neck pain and upper back pain that radiates to other parts of the body. It’s common for neck injuries to cause related shoulder pain and headaches. Seek medical care if you experience any of these neck injury symptoms after a crash: 

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shoulder pain 
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Headache at the base of the skull
  • Pain that increases with neck movement
  • Tenderness in the shoulders or upper back
  • Pain when moving the neck from one position to another 

After a car crash, the initial shock and adrenaline can mask certain symptoms of a neck injury. It’s common for neck injuries to cause delayed pain symptoms or pain that does not begin until 24 to 48 hours after the crash. No symptoms or delayed symptoms do not mean there were no injuries, so be sure to visit a doctor if you begin to experience any of these delayed signs of a neck injury: 

  • Memory loss (amnesia)
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Incapable of neck movement 
  • Nausea and stomach discomfort
  • Pain that radiates down the arms
  • Severe pain with sudden movement
  • Trouble with memory or concentration 
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or hands
  • Burning or throbbing pain in the neck or shoulder
  • Emotional changes, such as anxiety and depression

The 12 Most Common Neck Injuries from Car Crashes

Young woman holding neck in pain.

The term neck injury refers to damage to the cervical spine, the seven small bones (vertebrae) of the upper back. Each bone is connected by a type of joint (facet joint) and protected by a gel-like cushion (intervertebral disc). Several types of soft tissue, like ligaments and muscles, help keep the neck stable. The following 12 neck injuries occur when these structures are damaged in a car crash.

1. Cuts and Lacerations 

Cuts and lacerations are among the most common types of neck injuries that occur in vehicle collisions. A cut is a mild scratch, while a laceration is a deeper skin wound. Cuts and lacerations to the neck are often caused by broken shards of glass from the vehicle’s windows or mirrors. 

2. Contusions (Bruises) 

Bruises or contusions are very common accident injuries caused by blunt force trauma. The sudden motion of the vehicle can force a victim to slam against the steering wheel or seat belt. This motion can crush blood vessels without breaking the skin. Minor skin contusions cause mild discoloration, but more severe soft tissue contusions can cause deep purple and blue discoloration.

3. Soft Tissue Stiffness

Stiffness in the neck muscles and ligaments is one of the common types of soft tissue damage after a crash. Stiffness occurs when the neck muscles feel tight or more difficult to move than usual. Also called a “crick in the neck,” a doctor should examine neck stiffness to confirm that the underlying injury is not more severe. 

4. Neck Sprain or Strain

A neck sprain or strain is when the soft tissue of the neck stretches or tears. Neck sprain refers to damage to neck ligaments, and neck strain refers to an injury to neck muscles and/or tendons. These injuries are very common during vehicle collisions when the force of impact extends the neck beyond its typical range of motion. Sprains and strains can vary in severity, from a mild stretch in the soft tissue to a severe tear that may require surgery to repair.

5. Facet Joint Injury

A facet joint injury refers to damage to one of the joints that connects the neck bones. Trauma to the neck and head can cause the facet joints to become irritated or inflamed. These joints can also be pulled out of place (dislocated) from the cervical spine if the neck extends beyond its typical range of motion. A facet joint dislocation is a more serious injury that may require a neck brace to heal. 

6. Whiplash Injury

Whiplash occurs when the neck moves beyond its normal range of motion and damages one or more structures in the cervical spine. Though a whiplash injury is often referred to as a neck sprain or strain, this injury can also damage facet joints and other types of soft tissue, such as nerves.

Whiplash is very common after rear-end collisions and is often the cause of shoulder pain after a car accident. Symptoms of whiplash can range from mild to severe. Serious whiplash injuries can cause radiating arm and shoulder pain and cognitive issues like memory loss. 

7. Slipped or Herniated Disc

Intervertebral discs have a soft, jelly-like center and hard outer ring. A slipped or herniated disc occurs when the trauma of a vehicle collision causes a crack in the outer ring and allows some of the jelly-like center to protrude. A herniated disc can crowd other bones in the neck and compress sensitive nerves in the upper back, which can be painful. 

8. Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve)

Radiculopathy, or a pinched nerve, is often the result of an intervertebral disc compressing a nerve root or nerve ending in the upper back. Radiculopathy can also occur when inflammation from other injuries, like a neck sprain, presses on sensitive cervical nerves. Common symptoms of a pinched nerve include shooting or radiating pain that makes it difficult to identify the injury source. 

9. Neck Fracture or Compression Fracture

A neck fracture is a crack or break in one of the vertebrae located in the cervical spine. A compression fracture is when the vertebra completely shatters. Though both types of neck injuries are severe, compression fractures are more dangerous. Compression fractures can lodge small pieces of broken bone into the surrounding area and potentially injure the spinal cord. 

10. Cervical Spondylolisthesis

Cervical spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the neck bones moves forward or backward in the cervical spine. Spondylolisthesis can be caused by a neck fracture or herniated disc that causes the bone to shift out of place. Spondylolisthesis can worsen over time and cause chronic neck and shoulder pain if not addressed by a doctor.

11. Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms or cramps are common with other muscle injuries after a car accident, like a neck strain. Spasms occur when muscles involuntarily expand and contract to bring crucial blood flow and nutrients to help heal injured soft tissue. Muscle spasms are typically a sign of a more significant injury. 

12. Spinal Cord Injury 

A spinal cord injury is an incredibly serious injury that could result in lifelong paralysis or chronic pain. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the brain to the rest of the body. Any injury that damages the spinal cord can prevent communication with the rest of the body, leaving the accident victim unable to move from the point of injury down. 

What to Do if You Have Neck Pain After an Accident

Doctor talking to paitent with neck brace on holding ipad with xray

You should seek immediate medical attention if you have neck pain after an auto accident. Neck pain can indicate a serious injury, like a neck fracture.  If not properly treated after a crash, many neck injuries can cause long-term complications, such as chronic neck pain or stenosis. 

For instance, whiplash-associated disorder (WAD) is a collection of painful symptoms that can persist for months or even years without medical assistance. WAD is caused by an initial whiplash injury but can cause severe ongoing emotional and cognitive issues, like insomnia and memory loss.

Once you seek treatment for your accident injuries, reach out to a trusted personal injury attorney. An attorney can review the facts of your case to help you receive compensation for your injuries. An attorney can also help you navigate medical bills and lost wages during this stressful time.

Diagnosing and Treating Neck Injuries

Diagnosing and treating neck injuries begins with medical imaging, like x-rays or CT scans. These types of images reveal what’s happening underneath the surface of your skin, so that a medical professional can provide the most accurate diagnosis. The process may take a few days or even a few weeks because it often takes multiple types of medical imaging to reach a diagnosis.

Once a diagnosis is given, medical treatment can begin. Treatment for minor neck injuries typically involves chiropractic care and physical therapy. Treatment for more severe injuries may require an orthopedic surgeon or neurologist. The more serious the injury, the more expensive it is, even with help from your health insurance company. This is where a car accident lawsuit comes in. 

Can I Sue for a Car Accident Neck Injury?

Yes, you can sue for a car accident neck injury. In the state of Kentucky, accident victims can file a lawsuit against an at-fault driver if the accident caused more than $1,000 in medical expenses or if the victim suffered a bone fracture or permanent injury or disfigurement. Since the medical care for a neck injury is often costly, most accident victims meet the criteria for a neck injury claim.

An accident victim can sue for a variety of costs, including:

  • Auto repair or replacement costs 
  • Medical expenses, including medications
  • Pain and suffering, such as chronic pain 
  • Lost wages, including potential bonuses or tips
  • Future medical expenses related to long-term complications, such as home care

If you’ve been injured in an auto accident that was limited or no fault of your own, a car accident lawyer can help. An attorney can assist you in gathering important documents and totaling the price of your injury costs. If necessary, your lawyer can file a lawsuit on your behalf.  

Getting Compensation for Your Injuries After an Accident

No one deserves to suffer physically and financially from car accident neck injuries – especially if they were not responsible for the accident. The good news is that you do not need to fight for compensation alone. At David Bryant Law, we stand up for accident victims who have been injured by another driver’s negligence. Reach out to our Kentucky law firm for a free consultation about your neck injury claim today.

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David G. Bryant is certified to practice in all state courts in Kentucky, and federal courts in the Eastern and Western districts of Kentucky, Southern District of New York, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Tennessee, and Western District of Pennsylvania. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.