Our cars come with several features — like seatbelts and airbags — designed to keep us as safe as possible during car crashes. However, one safety area that’s still lacking is head and neck protection. Our heads and necks are vulnerable to rapid, jarring movement at the moment of impact during a collision. Even minor fender benders can place jarring force on the neck.
Unfortunately, these forceful movements can severely injure the neck. Left untreated, neck injuries caused by car accidents can lead to long-term pain and disability. Keep reading to learn more about accident-related neck injuries and when it’s time to see a doctor.
Whiplash: The Most Common Neck Injury Caused By Car Crashes
Whiplash is the most common accident-related neck injury. Whiplash occurs when the head and neck rapidly jerk forward and backward during a car collision. The forceful movement tears, stretches, and damages the bones, nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues in the cervical spine. Rear-end car accidents are the primary cause of whiplash.
Symptoms of whiplash may present immediately after a collision or not appear for several days. Common signs and symptoms to watch out for include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Increased pain with neck movement
- Painful or difficult range-of-motion movements
- Pain that spreads to the shoulders, upper back, and upper arms
- Blurry vision
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Along with physical symptoms, whiplash can also cause mental and emotional symptoms. Common signs to watch out for include onset of irritability, sleep problems, depression or anxiety, difficulty focusing, and memory problems.
Many cases of whiplash heal with non-surgical treatments like rest, medications, injections, ice/heat therapy, stretches, and physical therapy. Some people develop chronic pain, headaches, and other symptoms from whiplash that can last for several months or years. If you have any of the symptoms listed above after a car accident, see a doctor as soon as possible — early diagnosis and treatment reduces the risk of developing long-term pain and complications.
2 Additional Accident-Related Neck Injuries
High-impact collisions can lead to a range of injuries and damage to the soft tissues, bones, and joints that make up the cervical spine. Below are two additional neck injuries commonly sustained after car accidents.
- Neck strain. Neck strain occurs when the muscles or tendons in the neck become overstretched or torn. A mild strain may cause pain, achiness, stiffness, and discomfort during neck movement. A more severe strain could cause sharp pain, stiffness, increased pain during neck movement, and muscle spasms. In most cases, neck strain injuries are localized to the neck, although you may feel some discomfort in the back of the head, upper back and shoulders. These injuries typically heal within a few days to weeks with at-home care. Rest, over-the-counter medications, and ice/heat therapy can provide pain relief while the muscles heal. Once you start feeling better, performing gentle range-of-motion exercises can help strengthen the neck muscles and improve flexibility.
- Bulging or slipped disc. Intervertebral discs that sit between vertebrae give structure, support, and stabilization to the spine. The impact from a car crash could cause one or more of the discs in the cervical spine to move out of place. A bulging disc occurs when the disc’s inner material presses against the outer shell, causing the spinal disc to bulge outward into the spinal canal. Herniation occurs when the disc’s inner material pushes through a tear in the outer shell and leaks into the spinal canal. Some bulging and herniated discs cause no symptoms. However, if disc material pinches nearby nerve roots, you may experience neck pain, stiffness, and loss of range of motion. Other potential symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness that radiate down the shoulder, arm, and hand. Many bulging and herniated discs heal with non-surgical treatments like rest, medications, ice/heat therapy, cortisone injections, and physical therapy. If pain and symptoms persist for several weeks, you may need surgery to remove the protruding disc material.
When to See a Doctor
Ideally, the best time to see a doctor is right after a car accident occurs. A trained provider can evaluate you for signs of injury and let you know signs and symptoms to look out for in the coming days and weeks. However, if you feel fine after an accident and decide not to see a doctor right away, remain vigilant over the next several days and weeks for new or abnormal symptoms.
Car accident injuries don’t always present immediately. If you do have whiplash or a different neck injury, delayed symptoms may not appear until hours, days, or even weeks after the initial car crash. See a doctor as soon as possible for a neck injury evaluation if you begin experiencing the following symptoms after an accident.
- Neck pain
- Difficulty moving the neck side to side or up and down
- Muscle spasms
- Pain that radiates down the shoulders, upper back, and arms
- Numbness, tingling or weakness that radiates down the shoulders, arms, and hands
As soon as you experience neck pain and other symptoms, come to the urgent ortho care clinic at BEST Surgery and Therapies. We provide same-day appointments, diagnosis, and treatment for injuries like soft tissue strains and whiplash.
Find the Best Car Accident Injury Care at BEST Surgery and Therapies
If you’re in pain after a car accident, call BEST Surgery and Therapies to make an appointment in our Cincinnati, OH facility. Our providers deliver the highest-quality orthopedic and spine care to help you get back on your feet after an accident.
We have a quick-reply scheduling service that allows rapid patient access to our modern healthcare facility, where we provide same-day surgical care, urgent injury evaluation, and diagnostic and preventative measures. Please call us to speak with a dedicated Patient Experience Coordinator and schedule an appointment.