What Are the Most Common Causes of Neck Pain After a Car Accident?

A woman's hand on the steering wheel of her car.

Auto accidents are one of the leading causes of neck injury across the United States. More than 800,000 cases of collisions involving neck injuries are reported each year, each varying in type and severity. With so many possible neck injuries after a crash, it can be difficult to tell if neck pain following a car accident is a sign of a mild injury or something more serious.

Neck injury symptoms can be immediate or delayed and can send pain signals shooting down your arm or lower back. When left untreated, your symptoms can result in chronic neck pain and recurring medical expenses. 

If you or someone you love is suffering neck pain after a car accident, do not hesitate to visit a medical professional as soon as possible. Only immediate medical intervention can diagnose the injury that is causing you neck pain and help you on the road to recovery. 

Once you begin healing, learn how a personal injury attorney can help fight for compensation for your medical bills and pain and suffering. After a car accident, you do not need to face your neck injuries alone. 

Related Resource

Is it Normal to Feel Neck Pain After a Car Accident?

Neck pain after a car accident is very common because your neck is not well protected during a car crash. Your seatbelt might keep the rest of your body firmly in your seat, but your neck moves freely with the motion of the vehicle. The rapid movement of a rear-end collision, head-on crash, or side-impact accident can seriously injure many of the sensitive structures of the neck. 

What Happens to the Cervical Spine During Collisions?

The medical and legal term for your neck is the cervical spine. This area is made up of seven small bones, called vertebrae, with seven shock-absorbing intervertebral discs between each bone. These structures protect your spinal cord, a network of nerves that connects the rest of your body to your brain. 

The impact of a collision can be too much for your vertebrae and intervertebral discs to handle, causing various injuries to one or more cervical structures. The trauma of an accident can damage the soft tissues of your neck, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, facet joints, and connective tissues that attach the neck to the shoulder. 

Neck Pain Symptoms After a Car Accident

Your neck is composed of dozens of structures. If you begin to feel neck pain after a car accident, monitoring your symptoms is crucial. It is imperative to see a medical professional as soon as possible to ensure you haven’t sustained a serious injury. 

Common symptoms of a neck injury include:

  • Fatigue
  • Stiff neck
  • Sore neck
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Shoulder pain 
  • Numbness or tingling 
  • Lumbar (lower) back pain 
  • Pain in the back of the head
  • Thoracic (middle) back pain 
  • Severe pain with sudden movement
  • Pain when moving the neck from one position to another 

Delayed Injuries After a Car Accident

Though immediate neck pain after a car accident is common, it can take 24 hours or longer after a crash occurs for certain symptoms to appear. In some cases, it can take a couple of days before all pain symptoms fully develop. These symptoms are referred to as delayed pain. 

Common delayed symptoms after a car accident include:

  • Chest pain
  • Tight muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle pain
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Limited range of motion
  • Incapable of neck movement 
  • Nausea and stomach discomfort

Common Neck Injuries After an Auto Accident

Here are the most common neck injuries reported from a car crash. 

Neck Sprain and Neck Strain

Neck sprain and neck strain are two types of soft tissue damage that result from the stretching or tearing of neck muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Sprains occur when neck muscles and ligaments are pulled in an unnatural direction during an accident. Sprains often cause painful muscle spasms. Strains happen when tendons, which attach muscle to bone, are torn during an accident. 

Whiplash Injury

Whiplash happens when the head and neck are forcefully thrust forward and backward during the impact of a collision. The force of impact can cause muscle strain, damage to ligaments, and fractures in the bones and facet joints of the spine. 

Common symptoms of whiplash, such as headache and dizziness, are often delayed by 24 hours. One other whiplash symptom that many people aren’t usually familiar with is stomach pain. The effects of a whiplash injury can be long-lasting and must be assessed by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Facet Joint Injury

The role of facet joints is to connect the bones of your neck and protect sensitive nerves. Blunt force trauma can destabilize these joints, causing facet joint injuries. The resulting irritation can cause inflammation, stiffness, and tingling.

Injured Vertebrae or Herniated Disc 

Each bone of your spine is cushioned with an intervertebral disc. During an auto accident, either structure can be damaged. The force of impact can damage the bone itself or cause another common type of injury known as a herniated disc, which results when the cushion between your bones is punctured. Symptoms will include throbbing, burning, or tingling pain.

Pinched Nerve

The structures of your cervical spine are designed to protect the nerves that run through your spinal canal. An injured disc or muscle sprain can press down on sensitive nerve endings resulting in a pinched nerve. Symptoms include weakness, tingling, and numbness.

Neck Fracture

A neck fracture is when one of the bones in the neck partially or entirely breaks. Severe neck fractures can cause a small piece of the broken bone, called a bone fragment, to lodge into the delicate tissues surrounding the injury site. Pain is often instant and will cause limited neck movement.

Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury is one of the most severe injuries sustained during a car accident. A sudden blow or strike to the spinal cord can cause a loss of feeling, function, or mobility from the neck down. In catastrophic injuries, the impact may sever the spinal cord and cause severe brain injuries.

X-ray image of a the neck of a car accident victim with cervical trauma highlighted in red.

How Long Does Neck Pain Last After a Car Accident?

Recovery time for neck pain after a car accident varies depending on the severity of the injury. For minor neck injuries, like a mild strain, neck pain is normal for a couple of weeks after the car accident. 

More serious injuries such as whiplash or a neck fracture may take up to eight weeks or longer to heal properly. In the most severe neck injury cases, surgery may be necessary for a full recovery. 

Long-Term Complications of Initial Injuries 

Neck injuries that are left untreated can ultimately result in painful long-term complications. The elements of the cervical spine are supposed to work in harmony with one another. Leaving one or more structures damaged can impact the entire neck. Severe neck pain and chronic shoulder pain are just two long-term results from an untreated neck injury.

Long-term complications of untreated neck injuries include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Chronic headaches
  • Permanent limited range of motion
  • Cervical radiculopathy, or constant pinched nerve

What to Do if Your Neck Hurts After a Collision

Stress, the shock of impact, and injury can all cause some degree of neck pain after a car accident. Pain symptoms beyond dull irritation can be a sign that you’ve sustained serious damage. The only way for injury victims to ensure neck pain is relieved safely is to visit a medical professional as soon as possible. 

1. Receive Medical Treatment to Diagnose Neck Pain

Diagnostic imaging is required to diagnose crash injuries beneath the surface of the skin. For instance, broken bones will require an X-ray to determine the extent of the damage. Diagnostic imaging and an official diagnosis from a medical professional are also necessary for validation purposes for an injury claim.

2. Visit a Pain Specialist and Adhere to a Treatment Plan

It’s essential to adhere to a treatment plan to ensure your neck injury heals properly. For the best recovery outcomes, a pain specialist may recommend:

  • Surgery 
  • Wearing a neck brace
  • Using a heating pad
  • Pain medication
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Over the counter anti-inflammatory medication 

3. Contact an Attorney Knowledgeable in Personal Injury Claims

A personal injury claim is the most efficient method to receive compensation for the damages your neck injury has caused. From psychological factors like pain and suffering to medical expenses and lost wages, a car accident lawyer can assist you with your case. Your lawyer can file a claim with your insurance company or the insurance company of the at-fault driver to ensure you receive the appropriate compensation.

Attorney David Bryant in law library.

David Bryant Law: Personal Injury Attorneys Who Care 

Learning that you have suffered a neck injury after a car accident can feel like a devastating blow. On top of the damage to your vehicle and the stress of the crash itself, now you must travel to doctor’s appointments to receive care and manage the pain. If it’s all beginning to feel like too much to bear, please reach out to an attorney who cares.

At David Bryant Law, we understand the trauma that comes along with collisions—and how terrible neck pain after a car accident can feel. Contact one of our trusted car accident attorneys today for a free case evaluation. 

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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.