Understanding Back Pain After A Car Accident (2024)

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 5 mins

The forces your back endures during an auto accident can damage both the soft tissues and the spine. The symptoms from these injuries can affect your ability to stand, sit or walk. As a result, you might lose the ability to work or meet your essential needs, like showering, dressing and cooking. In fact, back pain is the leading cause of lost work days.

People with back pain after a car accident may experience physical limitations, including leg weakness, bad posture and nerve damage. Back pain can also cause mental and emotional issues. The percentage of people with feelings of nervousness, sadness and hopelessness almost doubles in those with back pain.

Understanding back pain and the possible treatments can help preserve your physical and mental health.

Causes of Back Pain After a Car Accident

Back injuries have two primary causes. A blunt impact on the back can damage the soft tissues or fracture the bones. For example, you could suffer back pain after getting slammed into your seat during a collision.

Hyperextension trauma can also injure the back. These injuries happen when the back stretches, bends or twists too far or in an unnatural direction. A common cause of hyperextension is whiplash.

Whiplash happens when your body whips around during a collision. The weight of your head and shoulders pulls your spine, causing the soft tissues to stretch and the vertebrae to separate slightly. As you come to a stop, your spine compresses the discs. Both hyperextension and compression can damage the back tissues, producing car accident back injuries.

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Injuries That Can Cause Back Pain

Many injuries can produce back pain after a car accident. Examples of back injuries that can happen during a car collision include:

Back Strain

Your back has large muscles that attach through tendons to the spine, skull, shoulder blades and collarbones. Back strain happens when hyperextension trauma stretches or tears the fibers of your back tendons and muscles. These injuries cause symptoms such as:

  • Muscle pain
  • Swelling
  • Spasms
  • Weakness
  • Stiffness

Muscle and tendon strains usually heal within a month or so with home care. Your doctor will likely recommend rest, ice packs on the injury and anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen. If you experience severe pain, your doctor may prescribe pain medication. You may need physical therapy to strengthen your back muscles as you heal.

Sprained Back

Your back includes 17 vertebrae between your shoulders and hips. Ligaments connect these vertebrae to hold them together and guide spinal movement. Hyperextension of these ligaments produces a back sprain. The stretched or torn ligaments can cause symptoms such as:

  • Pain in the spine
  • Back instability
  • Bruises
  • Limited range of back motion

A mild sprain might heal within four to six weeks. During your recovery, you may need to rest your back. You may also need physical therapy to build up the back muscles to help support the spine. Although doctors can operate on severe sprains in other parts of the body, they tend to avoid back surgery for sprains because of the risk involved.

Disc Injury

Spine injuries from car accidents can damage your intervertebral discs. Discs sit between the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers. The discs can deform when whiplash compresses them.

This deformation can take two main forms. A herniated disc happens when the outer layer of the disc ruptures and allows the inner layer to protrude. A bulging disc occurs when the outer layer weakens without rupturing. Your weight causes the disc to flatten and bulge.

Disc injuries can cause back pain and instability. The deformed disc can also press on nearby nerve roots. The resulting nerve inflammation can cause the nerve to misfire, producing pain and weakness that radiates into the hips and legs.

Fractured Vertebra

You feel severe back pain after a car accident. When to see a doctor? You should always consider seeing a doctor because back injuries can have catastrophic consequences.

Specifically, a fractured vertebra, also called a broken back, can injure your spinal cord. This injury happens when the bone fragments from a fractured vertebra dislocate into your spinal canal. Once there, these bone fragments can sever or compress the spinal cord.

A severed spinal cord causes permanent paralysis and loss of sensation below the level of the injury. Such an injury below your neck will affect your legs and hips, while an injury above the neck will impact all four limbs, your chest and your abdomen.

What to Do When You Experience Back Pain After a Car Accident

When you feel back pain after a car crash, you should stay put and seek medical care. Moving around after you fracture your back can increase the risk of a spinal cord injury. Immediate help for car accident back injuries is especially important if you feel any paralysis or loss of sensation in your arms or legs.

If you have non-incapacitating injuries, the paramedics at the accident scene will probably release you rather than transport you to the hospital. You should visit the emergency room, a quick care clinic or a doctor’s office. After your visit, you will have medical records that prove the nature of your injuries as well as when you incurred them and what treatment you need.

Once your doctor provides a treatment plan, you should follow your doctor’s instructions. If your doctor recommends limiting your activities, get a note you can provide to your employer. Similarly, if your doctor prescribes physical therapy, follow through on the referral or seek a second opinion.

Your injuries may cause significant financial losses. You will pay for medical treatment, therapy and medication. Even if you have health insurance, you will need to pay copays or meet a deductible. Equally importantly, you may lose income due to missed work days.

While every accident is unique, you should consider consulting a ConsumerShield lawyer about pursuing an accident settlement through an insurance claim or lawsuit.

Learn More About Crash-Related Back Pain

Back pain can signify serious injuries. Understanding the causes of back pain can help you seek treatment to lessen or relieve your symptoms. However, this treatment can be costly. You might also miss significant time from work due to back pain.

We understand the challenges that back injuries can present. ConsumerShield provides free case evaluations to connect you with resources that will help you meet these challenges. Contact us to learn more about crash-related back pain and how you can deal with its effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Depending on the cause, back pain can last anywhere from a few weeks to many years. For example, a strained back can heal within four weeks with rest. Conversely, a herniated disc has no cure and can cause recurring or chronic back pain for the rest of your life.

  • Yes, whiplash can affect the lower back. Whiplash happens when your body whips around during a collision. These forces cause your spine to hyperextend and compress. Your neck and upper back will experience the most damage. But hyperextension can also cause lower back pain after a car accident.

  • Generally, you can seek compensation for an injury caused by someone else’s negligent or otherwise wrongful conduct. However, every situation involves unique facts. You should consult a lawyer to learn whether your crash entitles you to pursue an injury claim.

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