Injuries That Cause Neck Pain After A Car Accident (2024)

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 5 mins

Neck pain is a common injury after a car accident. The violent changes in speed and direction you experience during a collision can place enormous stress on the neck.

Many injuries can cause neck pain after a car accident. These injuries can range from minor soft tissue damage to permanent disc or spinal cord injuries. Learning about the causes and effects of these injuries can help accident victims cope with their neck injuries from car accidents.

Causes of Neck Pain

Car accidents can injure your neck in a few ways. A common cause of neck injuries is hyperextension. These injuries happen when the neck stretches, bends or twists unnaturally.

Whiplash is a hyperextension injury. This injury occurs when your body suddenly changes speed or direction in a crash. Your body changes direction, but your head only follows when pulled by your neck. As a result, your head and neck snap like a whip and produce whiplash injury symptoms. Car accident injuries commonly include whiplash.

You can also injure your neck when it hits something. Blunt force trauma can happen when your neck hits your headrest during a collision. The impact can bruise the soft tissues or even fracture a vertebra.

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Types of Neck Injuries

Many kinds of injuries can cause neck pain, including the following:

Neck Strain

Your neck includes several muscles that support and move your head. These muscles attach through tendons to your skull, spine, shoulder blades and collarbones. Neck strain happens when the forces you experience during a car accident hyperextend the muscles and tendons. The stretched or torn tissues produce the following symptoms:

  • Muscle pain
  • Swelling
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiffness

A mild neck strain may heal in a few weeks. You may need several months to recover from a severe neck strain and its symptoms, such as a stiff neck, after a car accident.

Sprained Neck

Your neck contains seven vertebrae. The segmented structure of your neck gives it the flexibility to turn and nod your head. Ligaments hold your vertebrae together. Sprains happen when you hyperextend these tough, elastic bands of tissue. The resulting damage to the ligaments can cause symptoms such as:

  • Spine pain
  • Instability in the neck
  • Limited range of head motion

A sprained neck can take weeks or even months to heal. While surgery is an option for other kinds of sprains, doctors rarely operate on neck sprains because of the risks involved anytime they work around the spine and spinal cord.

Instead, your doctor will probably prescribe rest, ice packs and anti-inflammatory medication. You may also need to limit your activities to avoid aggravating the injury.

Disc Injury

Collagen discs between the vertebrae absorb shocks. They also prevent the vertebrae from grinding or banging against each other. These discs have a fibrous outer layer that protects a soft interior layer.

Damage to the discs can produce neck pain after a car accident. As the head whips back and forth, the neck undergoes cyclical hyperextension and compression. Pressure can rupture discs. This rupture can take two forms. A herniated disc happens when the fibrous outer layer separates and allows the inner layer to protrude through it. A bulging disc occurs when the outer layer weakens and sags.

A compressed disc pulls everything in your spine out of place, producing neck and back pain. The protrusion can also press on nerve roots near your spine, causing nerve symptoms in your shoulders, arms and hands. These symptoms include numbness, weakness and pain.

Unfortunately, doctors have very few options for treating a damaged disc. They can try to reduce the nerve symptoms with anti-inflammatories or remove the disc.

Fractured Vertebra

A fractured vertebra is a very dangerous injury. When you break your neck, you will experience severe pain. However, the biggest risk of a fractured vertebra is that the bone fragments can dislocate into the spinal canal. Once there, they can compress or sever the nerves connecting the brain to the body.

A severed spinal cord causes permanent paralysis and loss of sensation below the level of the injury. When it occurs in the neck, a severed spinal cord causes paralysis in all four limbs, the abdomen and the chest. This condition, called quadriplegia or tetraplegia, has no cure.

What to Do for Neck Pain After a Car Accident

Neck injuries from car accidents can have serious consequences. When you experience severe neck pain after a car accident, you should try not to move unless necessary for safety reasons. If you fracture a vertebra, moving could dislocate bone fragments into the spinal canal and damage the spinal cord.

You should contact paramedics for any level of neck pain, particularly if you have any nerve-related symptoms such as paralysis or numbness. After an examination by paramedics, you can safely leave the accident scene. You should visit the emergency room, a quick-care clinic or your doctor depending on the severity of the pain you feel.

Visiting a doctor promptly after an accident will document the injuries you suffered as well as their timing and cause. If you need to file any insurance claims or lawsuits, your medical records will provide valuable information to insurance claim adjusters and jurors.

You should also consider visiting a doctor if you experience delayed neck pain after a car accident. In many cases, you might not notice neck pain immediately after an accident due to focusing on other injuries. Neck pain might also take time to develop as damaged tissues under inflammation. You should still seek medical attention so you can document these injuries and get treatment for them.

Learn More About Crash-Related Neck Pain

Neck pain can have far-reaching consequences in your life. Neck pain even after a minor accident can prevent you from working and performing activities around the home. You might not even be able to shower, dress or drive due to the pain and stiffness you experience.

In many cases, you can seek injury compensation for neck pain. Since every accident and injury has a unique set of circumstances, you should consider seeking legal assistance. ConsumerShield provides a free claim review to assess your case and connect you with the resources you need. Contact us to learn more about the rights you might have.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • The duration of your neck pain depends on its cause. Muscle strains might clear up in just a few weeks, while the pain from a herniated disc might not go away unless you get surgery. You should consult your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

  • The most serious neck injury is a fractured vertebra. This injury can cause permanent paralysis. Doctors can diagnose this injury by taking X-ray images of your spine. Disc injuries are also serious. You should consider seeking medical care for neck pain that lasts more than a day or two.

  • You may have a case for injury compensation when you suffer a neck injury in a car accident. Your claim will depend on many factors, including the cause of the crash. You should consult a lawyer to learn more about your legal rights after a collision.

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