If you sustained a neck injury after a car accident, read on for different types of cervical spine injuries, symptoms, treatments and tips for your personal injury claim. The Bishop Law Firm represents injured accident clients in North Carolina and we do not get paid unless we win your case.
This article is not medical advice regarding neck injury. If you are having neck pain after a motor vehicle accident, please seek immediate medical treatment.
The Cervical Spine
A car accident can cause head injury, neck injury, mid-back injury or low back injury. The spinal column is made up of the cervical (upper), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) spine and begins at the end of the brain stem. These parts are reliant on each other to give your body movement and stability.
The spinal column contains the spinal cord (central nervous system) which is protected by vertebra. Facet joints connect the vertebrae together and perform as hinges that give the spine stability. Discs between the vertebrae provide shock absorption due to their jelly doughnut type structure.
The cervical spine controls the movement of the neck, shoulder, arms and hands. Damage to the cervical spine during a car accident can result in chronic neck pain, muscle spasms, stiff muscles, difficulty turning one’s head, difficulty using arms and even pain in the surrounding nerves due to inflammation.
Loss of mobility in the neck and cervical spine can alter a injured victim’s life dramatically.
If you are also having low back pain after a car accident, you can read lower back pain after a car accident.
Common Neck Injuries After Car Accident:
Whiplash (Cervical Strain or Neck Sprain)
During your accident, if your head suddenly jerked forward and/or backward this can result in whiplash. This jerking can result in tears to your neck muscles, ligaments or tendons (soft tissue damage) (Via WebMD ). Pain with motion, stiffness, and headaches are all common symptoms of whiplash. Your symptoms may start immediately after the auto accident or may present themselves in the coming days.
Whiplash is the most common soft tissue injury but its severity varies from person to person. According the Mayo Clinic, those with more severe symptoms from whiplash tend to have had whiplash previously, are older individuals, already had existing neck and back issues or where involved in a high speed injury.
Treatment for whiplash victims can include icing, pain medicine, neck braces (but these are not recommended for long term use) or massage. Recovery time varies depending on if you have suffered mild – severe whiplash. Whiplash can last for a few weeks or become long term chronic neck pain. Don’t assume that you have whiplash after a car accident, if you develop pain, seek medical attention to rule out more severe neck injuries.
Facet Joint Injuries
Facet joint injuries can result from whiplash after a car accident or from direct trauma to the spine itself. As discussed above, facet joints provide stability to the spine. If the facet joint is damaged or inflamed, it can cause severe neck pain.
According to UCLA, the pain that a victim feels may not be the actual site of injury due to the brain having trouble localizing these internal structures. An MRI, x-rays and a diagnostic block into the facet joint are used to diagnose Facet Joint Syndrome.
Facet joint syndrome can be treated with anti-inflammatories, pain medications, massage, injections or radio frequency ablation. Radio Frequency ablation attempts to block the nerves that send pain from the facet joints.
Cervical Herniated Disc
Commonly herniated discs begin spontaneously but can certainly happen from the trauma of a car accident. A disc herniation occurs when pressure is applied to the shock absorbers between your spinal discs. This pressure can cause a bulging disc and can in turn compress nerves (pinched nerves).
Nerve compression cuts off nerve communication to the affected areas and can result in pain, numbness, and loss of motion from your neck to your hands (cervical radiculopathy). This loss of communication, if not remedied quickly, can result in permanent nerve damage. Spinal stenosis can also be aggravated by a car accident.
Even a small disc herniation can cause cervical radiculopathy and severe pain. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT scan with a myelogram are used to diagnose herniation. A nerve conduction study can be used to see if you have radiculopathy. Physical therapy, injections, bracing, disc replacement, a fusion, or a discectomy can be done to help relieve the herniation.
Chiropractic manipulation may help if it is gentle but please make sure your neck injury will be helped by chiropractic care before you proceed. Aggressive chiropractic manipulation can actually make the pain and neurological damage worse (Via Spine Health ).
As discussed before on this site, x-rays will not demonstrate a pinched nerve and x-rays are the most common type of imaging offered to accident victims. If you begin to experience numbness in your upper extremities (radiculopathy), report to the doctor immediately and document when the numbness started.
Cervical Fracture (Broken Neck) or Dislocation
The cervical vertebrae hold the spinal cord. If you have fractured or dislocated a vertebra in a car accident, it needs to be immobilized and corrected as quickly as possible to minimize long term spinal cord injury . The longer nerves are not communicating the more damage will be caused.
This type of injury can take substantial time to heal and some form of intrusive surgery will be required. In addition, depending on where you have sustained the break or dislocation, there may be lifelong implications (Via OrthoInfo ). Brain injury is also an unfortunate possibility.
Also read North Carolina Spinal Injury Attorney
Neck Injury After Car Accident: Next Steps
If you have been injured in a car accident that was not your fault, you should seek medical treatment for your neck injuries, take photos of your injury, document missed time from work, avoid discussing your accident on social media and follow all medical advice.
If you are having car accident neck pain, you should see an orthopedist to rule out spinal cord injuries. While chiropractic treatment can help with neck pain, an injured victim should confirm that chiropractic treatment is the correct treatment for their particular neck injury before proceeding. Many doctors recommend physical therapy to treat neck pain and whiplash injuries.
Severe neck injuries and spinal cord injuries may require surgical procedures to relieve pain. Surgery will require time missed from work due to recovery as well as the need for rehabilitation, pain medication, and an ongoing treatment plan to ensure a positive long term outcome for neck pain.
After you file your claim with the insurance company, the adjuster assigned to your injury claim may try to settle your claim as soon as possible so they don’t have to pay for any additional medical treatment. In the alternative, some insurance companies will delay working on an accident victim‘s case until the statute of limitations has expired so the auto accident victim cannot recover for their losses.
In North Carolina, a car accident injury victim can receive compensation for lost wages (present and future), medical bills (present and future), pain & suffering and other accident-related injury expenses, but do not rely on the insurance company to give you fair compensation.
A North Carolina personal injury lawyer can help you recover all your losses by factoring all these expenses into your personal injury settlement. If your pain & suffering, current bills, and future losses are not factored into your car crash settlement you may find yourself in debt later on. You should not have to pay twice for the negligence of another.
If the insurance adjuster will not offer a fair settlement, you need to discuss with a personal injury lawyer whether filing a car accident lawsuit is the right move for your case.
The Bishop Law Firm represents car victims of auto accidents in Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Rocky Mount, Wilson, Fayetteville, Smithfield, Louisburg, Chapel Hill, Roanoke Rapids, Apex, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Greenville and more!
We look forward to working with you and wish you a speedy recovery.
Also read: NC Car Accident Lawyer