Neck Injuries After a Car Accident

In a car accident, neck injuries are common. Research shows that car accidents cause about 85% of severe neck injuries. These neck injuries include broken bones in the spine, disk damage, strains, and sprains. Despite improvements in vehicle design, airbags, seatbelts with shoulder harnesses, headrests, and the widespread use of a child’s seat, neck injuries still happen.

The protections reduce some fatalities but do not prevent neck injuries. Airbags may prevent death but might also cause a neck injury. Unfortunately, the reduction in critical injuries increases the proportion of soft tissue injuries from whiplash in vehicular accidents.

The Problems with Whiplash

Whiplash is a soft tissue injury that may cause pain and tissue damage that requires a long recovery period. Whiplash involves neck and back muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. What happens in an accident is that the head is thrown forward from the vehicle’s braking or by being hit from the rear. Then, the head is “whipped” back with an intense speed and strength. This rapid acceleration forward and deceleration in reverse transfers a huge amount of energy to the neck.

Think of your spinal column as a rope with the bones of the spine lined up like beads on a string. An average person’s head weighs about 13 pounds. In a car accident, the forces on the head may be at high as 14 times the acceleration of gravity when you drop something. The spinal column, a thin, rod-like structure, extends as far as it can and then snaps back.

The sudden stopping causes the spine to elongate, and then the reverse movement causes the spinal column to compress. The soft disk tissue between each cervical bone in the spine is subject to tremendous pressure. This might cause a herniated disk when the soft tissue protrudes from between the vertebra (bones).

Which type of collision is more likely to cause a severe neck injury?

A car accident at only two to five miles per hour, such as a “fender-bender” crash in a parking lot, is enough to cause a musculoskeletal injury (injured muscles and bones). There is evidence to suggest that a low-speed front-end accident is less likely to cause severe neck injuries when compared to a rear-end collision. This difference comes from the limiting factor of the chin hitting the chest with your vehicle being struck from the front-end or driving into something.

A rear-end collision causes the head to go backward. There may be significant movement unless a headrest stops the momentum. A rear-end collision is more likely to result in cranial nerve and brainstem injuries, which may cause paralysis.

There is also a rotational force for many neck injuries, especially if the vehicle is hit from the side or spins in an accident. There is also the possibility of vertical force that lifts the passenger from the seat. More severe injuries occur depending on the person’s height and the headrest position in relation to the head. Shorter people from the waist up are more likely to experience severe neck injuries in a car accident.

Rotational flexion forces may result in ligament strains or tears and bleeding. Healing of ligaments can come with fibrosis (permanent scarring), which reduces the elasticity (stretch-ability) of the ligaments and restricts joint motions. This type of injury and the scarring may also increase the possibility of reoccurring injuries, even with minimal trauma. This results in life-long risk and potentially increased suffering.

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Neck injuries are common in car accidents. Recovery may take a long time and not result in a full recovery. If you or a loved one suffered a neck injury in a car accident, call (281) 475-4535 or use the webform to get an immediate free consultation with a highly-qualified personal injury attorney. There is no fee unless you get a settlement or judgment award.