The United States experiences more than six-million car accidents each year. Back and neck injuries are common, especially in rear-end collisions. These injuries are often catastrophic, leaving the victim with a long term disability and huge medical bills. Car accidents are a leading cause of trauma in the country, and approximately 10 percent of all car accident victims are left disabled.
In 2017, 438 rear-end collisions occurred in King County, Washington, home to Seattle. In a rear-end collision, one car crashes into the rear of another vehicle. Usually, the driver in the rear vehicle is presumed to be at fault. In some cases, however, that driver may have been following too closely or driving while distracted.
Some rear-end collisions cause minor damage; whereas, in other situations, such as when a larger car or truck hits a smaller passenger vehicle, significant damage can result. The speed and force of a rear-end collision may suddenly propel the front car forward. The driver and passengers in the front car are often thrown backward and forward, and the force of these abrupt movements can injure the joints, ligaments, and muscles of the neck and back.
Studies have shown that a rear-end collision at speeds as low as five miles per hour can induce cervical (neck) injury, and whiplash can occur at speeds as low as 2.5 miles per hour. Unsurprisingly, a high-speed collision can cause severe bodily damage.
Whiplash is commonly used to describe a hyperflexion/hyperextension injury. Whiplash occurs when the impact of a crash causes an individual’s head to snap forward and backward. When the ligaments and muscles in the neck stretch beyond their usual range of motion, they may be ripped or torn. Whiplash is one of the most common injuries caused by car accidents, affecting over one-million people in the United States each year. Symptoms may last for years, and many victims never fully recover. Whiplash symptoms may include:
- Stiffness and neck pain
- Arm pain or numbness
- Decreased muscle strength
- Blurred vision
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty with memory or concentration
- Mood swings or irritability
- Ringing in your ears
- Abnormal reflexes
Often, injured individuals do not realize the extent of their injuries until after the accident, when they begin to experience the symptoms, such as a stiff neck. Claims for whiplash injuries are difficult to prove because the injury does not always show up on X-rays.
Common Back Injuries From Rear-End Collisions
Your back spans much of your body and has many components, including ligaments, muscles, tissues, tendons, vertebrae, discs, and bones, any of which an accident can damage. A car accident victim may experience pain that is sharp and/or aching, depending on the circumstances of the accident. The injury may cause a limited range of motion or restrict the injured individual’s ability to walk or stand for an extended period of time.
Some of the most common types of back injuries from car accidents include:
- Lumbar or thoracic vertebrae fractures. Both the lumbar vertebrae (in the lower section of the spine) and the thoracic vertebrae (in the middle section of the spine) are susceptible to rotation, flexion, and extension fractures.
- Back strains. When soft tissues are damaged by force or pressure that causes them to stretch too much, the resulting back strains lead to pain and mobility problems.
- Back sprains. Sprains are also caused by soft tissue damage to the back. Ligaments, which connects bones to joints or connect bones to each other, are usually damaged in the case of back sprains.
- Herniated discs. Discs cushion the vertebrae (bones) of the back. The force of a rear-end collision may cause the discs to break or rupture. They may also bulge and press on the nerves along the spine, causing significant pain.
- Compression fractures. Compression fractures are often very serious, resulting in breathing problems and significant pain. A compression fracture is a small break or crack in the bones of the spine.
- Spinal stenosis. This condition refers to a narrowing of the bone channel that contains the spinal nerves and spinal cord. A car accident may lead to a bone fragment or ruptured disc, applying pressure to the nerves or spinal cord.
Recovering From Back and Neck Injuries After a Rear-End Collision
Back and neck injuries can be painful and debilitating. They may restrict your mobility and interfere with your quality of life. Recovery after a rear-end collision varies, depending on the severity and location of the injury, but may include the following:
- Wearing a cervical collar, corset, or brace. A cervical collar restricts movement and helps to support the neck during the healing process. It prevents you from making sudden, painful movements.
- Working with a physical therapist. An individualized physical therapy program helps restore your range of motion. If you have lost mobility for some time after an accident, it can also strengthen impacted muscles and reduce pain.
- Your doctor and physical therapist can help you determine how to use heat or cold to help control pain. As a general rule, cold helps reduce swelling and thereby reduces overall pain; whereas, heat helps loosen tight muscles for relief of immediate pain.
- Your doctor may prescribe prescription or over-the-counter medications to control pain. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations for effective pain control to avoid the risk of addictive habits.
- It may hurt to move, but your doctor and physical therapist will help you work toward resuming your normal activities and maintaining the best quality of life possible.
Do You Need an Attorney After a Rear-End Collision?
Following a rear-end collision, many people brush off minor pain or think that they did not suffer any serious injuries. A few days later, however, their injuries may prevent them from getting out of bed. If you’ve sustained an injury in a rear-end collision, you need prompt medical attention. Your medical professional will conduct a thorough evaluation and provide immediate treatment, if necessary. If you have suffered back or neck injuries, the road to recovery may be long and expensive, with mounting medical bills and lost wages. An experienced vehicle accident attorney can help you obtain compensation for the full cost of your injuries.