When you have neck and back pain after someone rear-ends your car, you may have a condition commonly known as whiplash. If you feel immediate intense pain and you require emergency treatment and hospitalization, you likely have a far more serious problem. While you eventually recover from minor back and neck injuries, the most serious problems may require treatment indefinitely, and can lead to a variety of long-term consequences.
Even minor neck and back injuries cause pain, discomfort, loss of motion, and a variety of unexpected symptoms. Sometimes minor conditions turn out to be not so minor at all. They often require extensive medical treatment, pain medication, and physical therapy before your symptoms subside. Some seriously injured victims find relief through surgical intervention. Others adjust to the long-term disabilities, chronic pain, and permanent motion restrictions. Regardless of the severity, persons with back injuries often lose income during their recovery. If their disabilities continue, they live with a long list of physical, financial, and emotional consequences.
Why Is It Called Whiplash?
Whiplash gets its name from the neck motion that occurs when a motorist strikes another person’s car in the rear. The vehicle’s sudden deceleration after an impact causes a whip-like flexion and hyperextension of the neck. You flex and extend your neck every day, but the motion is usually harmless; when a sudden crash impact triggers the motion, it traumatizes soft tissues and underlying musculoskeletal structures. Whiplash injuries occur even at low-speed impacts.
Why Are Neck and Back Injuries so Painful?
If your whiplash pain seems to encompass your neck, back, head, and other areas of your body, it’s because neck and back injuries often affect the upper and lower back as well as their internal structures and nerves. As the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains, whiplash injuries harm intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots. This causes symptoms and conditions such as neck stiffness, muscle and ligament sprains and strains, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, depression, inflammation, and an extensive list of potential problems. Persons with back and neck injuries even suffer from referred pain where they feel pain in an uninjured body part.
Although whiplash is often seen as an insignificant injury, it’s sometimes a sign of a deeper problem. Knowyourback.com, the North American Spine Society website, projects that whiplash injuries should resolve within 6 to 10 weeks of an accident. Chronic pain beyond this timeframe is often due to an underlying disc problem or an issue with facet joints located at the rear of the affected vertebra.
Serious and Catastrophic Back and Neck Injuries
When a vehicle rear-ends a car at high speeds, the impact jolts the body causing severe injuries. If a semi, a bus, or another heavy vehicle initiates the impact, the injuries are often catastrophic and sometimes fatal. A sudden severe spinal trauma can fracture or dislocate a vertebra. Bone or disc fragments then damage spinal cord tissue. They destroy axons, the nerve cell extensions that deliver signals to the brain. This dynamic causes paralysis and functional losses from the damaged area downward.
Rear-end accidents cause these and other serious and catastrophic back and neck injuries.
- Cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spinal fractures
- Spinal cord injuries
- Paralysis at the damage and below
- Loss of bodily functions
- Loss of sensation
- Herniated discs
- Reduced range of motion
- Reduced life expectancy
- Permanent disabilities
- Psychological problems
- Fatal injuries
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website lists car or motorcycle crashes as one of four high-energy traumas that cause thoracic (mid-back) and lumbar (low back) spinal fractures. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center’s 2018 Spinal Cord Injury Fact sheet cites auto accidents as a factor in 38.3% of spinal cord injuries nationwide.
Neck and Back Injury Treatment
Neck and back injuries vary widely, so the treatments vary as well. For whiplash injuries, doctors often treat patients using traditional soft tissue injury solutions. They include more complex treatment options if the pain continues or worsens.
- Pain medications
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Muscle relaxants
- Cervical collars
- Physical therapy
- Cervical traction
- Spinal fusion
- Laser surgery
- Heat treatments
- Medial branch blocks
For patients with catastrophic back injuries, treatment options are still limited. Advances in emergency medicine have improved spinal cord injury recovery. When given within hours of the injury, a steroid drug called methylprednisolone reduces nerve damage. For many spinal cord injuries, the treatment still emphasizes rehabilitation, condition management, and follow-up care like:
- Respiratory support
- Nerve stimulation
- Physical and psychological therapy
- Chronic condition management (pain, heart, bladder, respiration, bowel)
Recoverable Damages from a Rear End Neck or Back Injury
Each neck or back injury is unique. The damages are often unpredictable, but settlements usually include the basic categories: economic damages and general damages. Economic damages reimburse actual costs incurred for medical treatment, therapy, medications, prosthetics, mobility devices and structures, lost wages, future wages, and more. General damages pay an injured person for the value of pain, suffering, emotional distress, scarring, lifestyle changes, diminishment of a spousal relationship, and other emotional and psychological considerations.
Never say I’m Okay
Sometimes a back or neck trauma takes a day or so to catch up with you. When you have no broken bones or immediate pain, you might not feel symptoms until a day or two later. That’s important to remember during the moments immediately following an accident. Neck and back injury symptoms often don’t manifest immediately. That’s why you should never insist that you’re okay following an accident: without medical observation, it’s often impossible to know for sure whether you are truly injury-free.
The delay factor often makes whiplash injuries controversial when you have a pending liability claim. When a person feels unharmed after a rear-end accident, they often respond “I’m okay” to police officers, witnesses, EMTs, and anyone else who asks. That sense of being okay, however, may only last until the pain begins a few days later. When you present an injury claim to the other person’s insurance company, your post-accident okay statements could support their doubts that your injuries aren’t legitimate.
Contact Our Personal Injury Attorneys
If someone rear-ended your car and caused your neck or back injury, they should be held responsible for your damages. Abels & Annes Personal Injury Attorneys have recovered millions for our clients: Let us determine if we can help you. Call us at (312) 924-7575 or complete our contact form at Abels & Annes online to arrange a free consultation.