Whiplash is one of the first things that comes to mind when people think of injuries from a car accident. And while whiplash is a common neck injury, especially from rear-end collisions, it isn’t the only neck injury from car accidents.
Most people are familiar with the image of the spinal column, or vertebrae, that runs up our backs. It is one of the central features of our skeletons. The spine plays an important role in holding us upright. It also protects the spinal column that sends messages from the brain to other parts of the body.
The portion of the spinal column in the neck is called the cervical spine. It is made of seven stacked bones, or vertebrae, that go from the upper back (about shoulder level) to the bottom of the skull. But the bones aren’t the only important structures in the neck. There are several muscles that not only add stability and strength to the cervical spine but also allow for movement of the neck. Any part of these structures can be damaged in a car accident.
Neck injuries occur in car accidents because the impact on the car typically causes your body to bounce or jerk around. For example, if you are hit from behind (rear-ended), your body will first jolt back, then quickly forward. This happens very quickly and the spine essentially moves like a whip (hence the phrase whiplash). While seatbelts save lives and we should all wear them, they are sometimes also a contributor to neck injuries. Why? When your car is hit, the seatbelt stabilizes your chest and torso—and keeps you from being tossed through the windshield. Your neck, however, is not restrained and absorbs a lot of the movement and impact.
Soft Tissue Injuries
When your car is hit in an accident and your body is tossed around, sometimes the ligaments and muscles that stabilize the spine are stretched or torn. These are soft tissue injuries and are often types of strains or sprains. This is what is most commonly referred to as whiplash. Symptoms may include neck pain, stiffness, loss of range of motion, numbness, headaches, fatigue, and dizziness. Symptoms may not be present immediately, but typically show up within 24 hours. The more intense your symptoms and the sooner they develop, the more likely you are to have chronic pain as a result.
This is a broad category that can include compression fractures and more severe injuries like fracture-dislocations, often caused by auto accidents. Fractures occur when the external force applied to the bone exceeds the bone’s ability to support the load. All spinal fractures should be treated by a trained professional.
When a nerve is irritated or squeezed near its branch from the spinal cord, it is commonly called a pinched nerve. It not only causes pain to radiate through the shoulder, but it can also cause muscle weakness and numbness down the arm and hand.
Spinal Cord Damage
Far less common, but far more severe is damage to the spinal cord itself. A spinal cord injury often results in permanent changes in or loss of strength, sensation, and bodily function.
If you’ve suffered a neck injury in a car accident, of course, treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of the injury. For example, the most minor cases of whiplash or a pinched nerve may be treated simply with rest and relaxation. However, for more serious injuries, such as a spinal fracture, surgery may be part of the necessary treatment. Most neck injuries from car accidents lie somewhere in between those extremes.
If you’ve suffered a neck injury, you should seek treatment from a qualified chiropractor or medical doctor. You are likely to be referred to a physical therapist for rehabilitation as part of your treatment. It is essential to be consistent with the treatment plan recommended to you for optimal recovery.
It is important to remember that symptoms of a neck injury sometimes do not appear immediately following a car accident. Many people don’t notice the pain until the following morning. If you suspect any injury to your neck from a car accident, seek treatment. It is better to see a medical professional sooner rather than later.
An injury claim attorney can help you in the event of a neck injury from an accident. If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence, a personal injury lawyer will help you recover financial compensation to pay for the medical treatment you need, pain and suffering you experience, lost wages for the time you are unable to work following the injury, and even future loss of earning capacity. Contact us today for a free consultation.