Unfortunately, neck and back injuries are common during car accidents; the impact strains the ligaments and muscles in the back, and the facet joints bear the brunt of the force. This can result in several injuries, including whiplash, disc-herniation, compression fractures, and spondylolisthesis.

It is important to be able to spot the symptoms of these injuries so that if you or someone else is injured, you will know what to do. Some injuries can be made worse if the injured person is moved. Even if it was a low-speed car accident, if you experience back or neck pain afterward, you should seek the help of a medical professional. A muscle strain may heal on its own, but if back or neck pain is caused by a more serious injury, a person may still feel pain months or years later.

How to Spot an Injury

How do you know if neck or back pain is simply a muscle strain, or a more serious injury? You likely won’t know for certain until you are evaluated by a medical professional, but there are some symptoms that may indicate that medical help is needed. Let’s review some of the symptoms of common neck and back injuries caused by car accidents.

WHIPLASH

Whiplash is more common during rear-end collisions, as the force from impact suddenly pushes your head backward, then forward, much like the motion of cracking a whip. Front-end collisions do not usually result in whiplash, as the headrest often stops the motion of the head and neck. Symptoms of whiplash will appear within 24 hours of the accident, and may include pain and stiffness in the neck, headaches that are often at the base of the skull, dizziness, blurred vision, and fatigue. In some cases, a person with whiplash may also experience difficulty concentrating, memory problems, ringing in the ears, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.

SPINAL FRACTURES

Compression fractures are common in the thoracic and lumbar spine (middle and lower back) during a car accident. During impact, the upper body may be thrown forward while the lower body is held in place by a seatbelt. This can pull the vertebrae apart. In some cases, spinal fractures can result in spinal cord injuries, as the broken vertebrae may move out of place. The main symptom of a spinal fracture is moderate to severe back pain that worsens with movement, but those with spinal cord injuries may also experience tingling, numbness, weakness, or loss of bladder and bowel control. If a spinal fracture is suspected, it is important not to move the injured person; movement could cause further damage. Emergency rescue workers will immobilize the injured person with a neck collar and backboard before transporting him or her to the hospital.

SPONDYLOLISTHESIS

Spondylolisithesis occurs when a vertebra shifts out of place due to a stress fracture in the bone. The displaced bone may press on the nerves or narrow the spinal canal, causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the buttock or leg, and difficulty walking. In extreme cases, it may cause loss of bladder or bowel control. However, some people experience no symptoms at all, or do not experience symptoms until years later.

DISC HERNIATION

Since the discs absorb the majority of the impact to the spine, it is possible for a disc to herniate during a car accident. A disc is herniated when its soft center pushes through a small crack in the disc’s exterior, irritating the surrounding nerves. Some people experience no symptoms, but others may experience arm or leg pain, depending on the location of the herniated disc, and may also experience tingling, numbness, or weakness in the affected area.

What to Do after an Accident?

After a serious car accident, it’s not uncommon for victims to experience chronic, persistent pain throughout their body. Tensed muscles and nerve damage can result in back pain that may require treatment or surgery to find relief and prevent permanent damage. A serious accident can result in a wide number of injuries and one of the most common areas damaged is your back. In cases of severe back injury such as herniated discs and spinal compression fractures, surgery may be necessary to relieve chronic pain and restore sensation or mobility in extremities.

Auto Accidents

How do you know if neck or back pain is simply a muscle strain, or a more serious injury? You likely won’t know for certain until you are evaluated by a medical professional, but there are some symptoms that may indicate that medical help is needed.