Brian White | March 19, 2021 | Car Accidents
Pain in the back and neck represents one of the most common complaints after a car accident. This pain may range from general soreness to intense, debilitating pain.
Pain may appear immediately after the crash. It may also manifest after a delay or increase in intensity over time. It may not remain isolated to the neck and back. It may radiate into the extremities or be accompanied by tightness, numbness, and spasms in the muscles.
Car accidents involve an enormous amount of force. Much of this force will go into crushing the cars. Modern plastic bumpers are designed to absorb this energy by deforming. But sometimes they are not enough.
Here are some details about how car accidents cause neck and lower back pain, along with some insights into how pain is compensated in an injury claim.
How Do Neck and Back Injuries Occur?
The force of an impact can push everyone into their seatbelts. The seatbelts will prevent the occupants from bouncing around the inside of the car. But seatbelts can also cause the body to bend and twist.
This motion will strain the back and neck. The back and neck extend, pulling muscles and causing the vertebrae and spinal discs to spread apart.
As the vehicles slam to a stop, the seatbelts will push everyone back into their seats. This rapid reverse motion can cause the body to snap backward. The neck and back bear the strain of this whipping action. But this motion will also compress the muscles, vertebrae, and spinal discs in the back and neck.
Over a few seconds, the neck and back expand and compress under enormous forces. This expansion and compression can fracture bones, tear muscles, and rupture spinal discs.
Common Neck and Back Injuries from Car Accidents
Car accidents produce a range of neck and back injuries, including:
The stretching and twisting motion can strain muscles in the back and neck. The term “whiplash” refers to muscle strain in the neck caused when the head whips forward and backward in a collision.
A car accident’s violent impact can also tear muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the back. Tendons and ligaments hold the vertebrae in place. When the tendons and ligaments tear, vertebrae can shift and place pressure on the spinal cord.
Most adults have 24 vertebrae in their spines. These bones provide structure for the back and support the body. The vertebrae also protect the spinal cord, which runs through them.
In a car crash, the twisting and bending action of the back can fracture the vertebrae. When vertebrae fracture, bone chips can protrude into the spinal canal, or vertebrae may shift out of position. Either of these conditions can cause compression of the spinal cord.
Intervertebral discs rest between the vertebrae. These discs provide flexibility in the back and offer cushioning between the discs. In a car accident, these discs can become damaged.
Disk injuries fall into two categories:
- A bulging disc, in which the outside layer of the disc bulges because of pressure on the disc
- A herniated disc, in which the gelatinous material inside of the disc pushes through the outside layer of the disc
Either type of injury can cause severe nerve pain as the disc presses on the spinal cord.
Spinal Cord Injuries
When a bone fragment, vertebra, or disc presses on the spinal cord, you will experience pain. But if an accident severs your spinal cord, you may lose some nerve function. A spinal cord injury could cause paralysis, numbness, loss of coordination, and loss of muscle control.
A spinal cord injury could also produce pain and other symptoms that are lifelong.
Types of Neck and Back Pain from Car Accidents
Doctors classify pain by its duration and source. Let’s take a look at various types of pain below.
Acute pain has a short duration. This type of pain usually has a specific cause that doctors can treat. Acute pain usually goes away with pain medication, physical therapy, surgery, time to heal, or a combination of these factors.
Muscle strain and broken vertebrae can produce acute neck and back pain after a car accident. But treatment can often lessen or eliminate these sources of acute pain.
Chronic pain has a long duration. Chronic pain may manifest continuously or may recur. This type of pain might have an unknown cause or an untreatable cause, such as nerve damage. Chronic pain may lessen with treatment and medication. But for many patients, chronic pain may never go away.
Ruptured and bulging discs, dislocated vertebrae, torn ligaments, and torn tendons can produce chronic pain. In most cases, doctors can do little to reduce pain when bones, bone fragments, or discs press on the spinal cord.
Nociceptive pain occurs due to tissue damage. Nociceptive pain can be acute or chronic. For example, pain from a broken vertebra may cause acute pain until the bone heals. But the same vertebra may produce chronic pain after it heals if the fracture site develops osteoarthritis.
Neuropathic pain occurs due to nerve damage. Nerve damage in the neck and back due to a car accident can disrupt the electric signals sent along those nerves. This produces pain sensations.
Neuropathic pain is often chronic. Neuropathic pain can manifest in strange ways, such as a burning sensation, prickly sensation, or pain that radiates or moves around.
The pain may even manifest somewhere remote from the nerve damage. For example, neuropathic pain might manifest in the hands after a neck injury.
Compensation for Back and Neck Pain After a Car Accident
Juries and insurance adjusters can compensate you for your pain in two ways, which include:
Your compensation should cover your medical bills to treat your neck and back injuries. It should also include your lost income if you missed work due to your neck and back pain.
You may be entitled to damages for pain and suffering. These damages compensate you for your physical anguish due to your injuries.
If you’ve been in a car accident, an injury lawyer can help you to value your economic and non-economic losses, ensuring that you seek the appropriate recovery that you are due.