If you’ve been in a car accident, neck pain can start immediately or occur in the hours or days following the collision. Although many people have experienced a stiff neck before, the impact of an accident can cause far worse damage, making it critical to seek care immediately.
What causes neck pain from an auto accident?
During a car accident, your neck may suddenly jerk forward and backward. With your body restrained by a seat belt, your neck takes the brunt of the force. Moreover, a collision may cause your neck to move from side to side forcefully. Or you may get hit by debris from inside or outside of the vehicle.
If you realize an accident is about to occur, you may tense up your muscles increasing your risk of muscle strain. This forceful action can damage ligaments, muscles, discs, nerves, joints, tendons, or bones.
Areas of the Neck Affected by a Car Accident
Your neck is a vulnerable and complex structure made up of seven small bones, called the cervical vertebra, residing in the spinal column. Between the bones, intervertebral discs separate each one, and facet joints connect the bones and allow you to pivot your head.
Your musculoskeletal system supports your neck and skull while protecting the spinal cord. The neck is part of your backbone or spinal column, called the cervical spine. It’s broken down into two segments, the subaxial spine and the craniocervical junction (CCJ).
Since the cervical discs are essentially shock absorbers, injuries to the discs occur frequently. However, your neck also contains many small tissues. Strained, torn, or stretched cervical ligaments can cause ongoing neck pain after a wreck. The neck also contains joints called facets. They are responsible for the neck’s range of motion and are frequently injured in car accidents because of the whiplash mechanism.
Car Accident Neck Injury Symptoms
After a collision, you may experience a range of symptoms, from minor pain or stiffness to excruciating pain or nausea. Furthermore, symptoms may not occur immediately. Delayed neck pain after a car accident is common. . Symptoms of a neck injury after a car accident can consist of:
· Being unable to turn your neck from side-to-side
· Stiffness or a heavy feeling in your neck or head
· Inability to look up or down without pain or at all
· Throbbing pain
· Dizziness or nausea
· Shooting pain
· Tenderness in your neck or back of the skull
· A sensation of chills or a fever
· Pain that moves to your back or shoulder area
· Feeling overly tired
· Muscle spasms in your neck area
· Problems with memory
· Difficulty falling asleep or staying focused
· Mood changes such as anxiety, irritability, or depression
· Numbness or tingling in your arms
· Blurred visions or ringing in the ears
Common Neck Injury Risk Factors
Trauma from a car accident is enough to cause damage. However, pre-existing conditions can contribute to or worsen a neck injury. Neck injury risk factors include:
· Previous injury or trauma to the neck area
· Trauma stemming from a high-speed crash
· A job requiring repetitive neck movement
· Poor posture or ergonomically-incorrect computer workstations
· A history of neck arthritis or pain
· Older age
9 Types of Neck Injuries After a Car Accident
An accident can cause injuries, even if it’s a minor collision. From rear-end to a side collision, the impact location may cause harm to different parts of your neck. The most common term used for injury is whiplash. But whiplash causes soft tissue damage that may fall under one or more of the following injury categories.
1. Cervical Spondylolisthesis
The force of an accident may cause one or more of your vertebrae to slip out of alignment or dislocate. The resulting injury ranges from mild to severe. A vertebra may compress nerves or the spinal cord with slippage, causing pain to radiate to the back of your head or shoulders.
2. Slipped or herniated disc
The intervertebral discs in your cervical spine are jelly-filled and absorb shock to protect your vertebrae. During a collision, the discs may slip, rupture, herniate or bulge. Slippage may cause the disc to compress spinal cord nerves.
In contrast, a bulge or rupture is when the jelly-like substance pushes out of the disc, crowding your vertebrae and compressing nerves. Disc injuries can cause pain in the neck or arms and/or numbness from the injury itself and from pinching or squeezing nerves. It’s common in side-impact crashes.
3. Neck sprain or strain
Neck strains and sprains may present similar symptoms, but they’re different. A strain damages the facet joint, tendons, tissue that connects your bones to muscles, or injures your muscles. In contrast, sprains are torn ligaments, the soft tissue that connects bones to other bones. The result is often pain when moving your head or upper neck, reduced mobility, or muscle spasms.
4. Pinched nerve
Many neck injuries can result in a pinched nerve. Damaged tissues, bones, discs, or tendons shift out of place and rub against or compress surrounding nerves causing severe pain and/or tingling and numbness. Pinched nerves are often associated with a muscle strain, sprain, or disc damage.
5. Stiff muscles and tendons
Neck pain caused by a car accident often leads to stiffness in the neck, which you may call a “crick in the neck.” It may hurt to move your head or keep your neck in the same position for a long time.
6. Facet joint injury
Facet joints allow you to move your head and neck area freely. The facet joints in the neck also stabilize your head and neck. After a collision, your facet joints may get inflamed or irritated, resulting in pain.
7. Neck fracture or compression
A fractured cervical spine, or a broken neck, is a serious injury requiring immediate medical care. A neck fracture means one or more of the seven neck bones is broken or has a crack. It can cause further damage to your spinal cord nerves, called a spinal cord injury. Paralysis or death may occur from a broken neck.
8. Cuts and lacerations
Debris from a car accident may gouge your neck area. Superficial cuts may cause bruising and bleeding. However, lacerations are deep cuts that may require stitches and can damage neck tendons and ligaments.
9. Muscle Spasms
Spasms are common car accident neck injury symptoms. But you may also experience twinges in your shoulders, back, and arms. In most cases, cramps occur because your muscles tensed up or were overstretched. As a result, swelling and inflammation occur, affecting the nerves around the muscle.
Your body attempts to protect hurt muscles by contracting and immobilizing the area. Your muscles may tighten and loosen in rapid succession, causing a large amount of pain. Since it takes time for inflammation to build up, delayed neck pain after a car accident often includes spasms.
Treatment for Neck Pain After a Wreck
To avoid long-term complications from a neck injury, seeking immediate care is necessary. Although auto accident recovery can occur within a few weeks, some circumstances may lengthen the treatment and recovery period, such as:
Not receiving immediate care after an injury to the neck
Severe damage to neck discs, joints, or ligaments
Re-injuring the neck while still in recovery
It is critical to see a doctor who's experienced in treating injuries following an accident. Hidden injuries can lead to chronic pain and complications if left untreated.
Our chiropractors in Naperville, IL will perform an examination to identify your injuries, and help you look out for hidden injuries. This will help determine the best treatment options for you.
Call (630) 961-0259 to schedule an appointment today!
Visit Us for Neck Pain Relief and Back Pain Relief from an Auto Accident Chiropractor on Our Team
Don’t settle for using medication or just trying to live with the pain. We can provide natural, holistic, non-invasive, and non-addictive care for auto accident injuries. We tailor our treatments to help fit your life and your needs so we can help you get the pain management and pain relief that you may need to get back your responsibilities.
We at DuPage Health and Physical Therapy in Naperville, IL, are here to help you with variety of different types of injuries and chronic pain conditions, including neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, and more. Call us at (630) 961-0259 to learn more about car accidents and chiropractic. Visit us for chiropractic care from a Naperville chiropractor.