Car accidents can lead to a wide range of injuries, including neck injuries. In a car accident, your body is subject to a great deal of force moving abruptly forward, then backward as the car comes to a sudden stop. While your seat belt will often hold your body tightly against the seat of the car, your head does not have such protection. As a result, your neck often takes the bulk of the strain.
Common Neck Injuries From Car Accidents
You may face any number of neck injuries after your car accident. However, several common injuries turn up more often than others.
Victims of rear-end collisions frequently suffer whiplash, though any type of auto accident can lead to this type of injury. Symptoms often develop over the first 24 hours after the injury, but some victims may not notice symptoms until a few days after the accident. Symptoms can include:
- Stiffness in the neck;
- Pain when moving the neck in a specific direction;
- Tingling and numbness in hands or arms;
- Tension in the shoulders; and
For some patients, whiplash resolves fairly quickly; within a few weeks of the initial injury. Some victims, however, experience ongoing symptoms of whiplash for months after the accident.
In a car accident, your body is subject to a great deal of force. This force can cause part of the soft interior portion of one or more of your spinal discs to push through the disk’s harder exterior, pinching nerves in the spinal column. A pinched nerve can radiate pain, numbness, or both, depending on the extent of the injury. Disc herniation can also cause weakness in the arms or shoulders.
In addition to whiplash, car accident victims may suffer muscle damage in the neck and shoulders. Many victims tense up when they see the accident coming. That tension makes it more difficult for muscles to “give” during the car accident, which can result in damage to the muscle tissue. Muscle damage can cause weakness and ongoing pain while you recover from your injury.
Sprains and Strains
Muscle strains occur when a tendon stretches too far and tears, but sprains occur when the ligaments that support the neck suffer similar strain. Both conditions can cause pain ranging from minor to severe, depending on the extent of the injury. While some people may refer to these injuries as whiplash, sprains and strains involve significant damage to ligaments and tendons. Pain and stiffness usually resolve with time; however, some accident victims require physical therapy to restore mobility.
Cuts and Lacerations
Cuts and lacerations to the neck during a car accident can significantly impact mobility following a car accident. Such cuts and lacerations may cause ongoing pain as well as highly visible scarring after the injury heals. Many people struggle with the presence of visible scarring, which can impact the way they feel about their physical appearance after the accident.
How Do Neck Injuries Hurt Victims After an Accident?
After an accident that involves neck injuries, many victims find that their injury has a profound impact on their lives. Back and neck pain can cause incredible disruption to every aspect of an individual’s life, often impacting them in unexpected ways. Common impacts include:
Neck pain can make it difficult for many people to handle their daily jobs. Performing manual labor with persistent neck pain can range from deeply uncomfortable to agonizing. Many doctors may recommend rest while recovering from neck pain, making it very difficult for accident victims to return to their usual employment after the accident. Even with a desk job, accident victims with neck pain may struggle to return to work after the accident. Medications to manage neck pain can make focus, attention, and processing difficult, while sitting behind a desk may cause the victim’s neck to stiffen, especially while looking consistently at a computer monitor or down at paperwork on the desk. As a result, many accident victims with neck injuries cannot return to work during their recovery period. If a victim suffers from chronic pain after an accident, they may even struggle to return to their former profession or to hold down a job at all after their injury.
Neck pain can interfere with leisure activities. From sitting on the couch playing video games to heading out to the park for a jog or to engage in sports activities, neck pain can make it difficult for many people to enjoy the activities that they normally engage in. Neck pain can make it awkward or uncomfortable to look at the television, whether watching a movie or playing a video game. Neck pain can make engaging in physical activity even more difficult: many victims cannot play sports, exercise, or play games with friends and family members during their recovery process.
Not only can the inability to participate in enjoyable activities make recovery from neck injuries seem to take forever, many people find that an enforced lack of activity significantly increases the likelihood that they will suffer from depression. Because exercise naturally improves mood, being stuck without the ability to engage in physical activity can make a victim’s recovery time extremely difficult. This problem, combined with chronic pain from the injury, can make many neck injury victims prone to depression.
Neck pain can make it difficult to take care of daily responsibilities at home. You may not realize just how much you rely on mobility in your neck until you can no longer move it freely or moving it causes you pain. Taking care of everyday tasks may be incredibly difficult after you suffer a neck injury in a car accident. Cleaning, cooking, and caring for children may be incredibly painful. Many victims find that they need help taking care of basic tasks, especially if they cannot turn their necks safely to drive a vehicle.
Neck pain can make social activities more difficult. Many neck injury victims feel awkward spending time with friends during their recovery period. Not only that, but neck pain may make it difficult for the victim to participate in many of the activities they usually enjoy or to head out for activities with friends. Many neck injury victims need to leave activities early or avoid them altogether to rest, recover, and manage their neck pain. Long-term recovery from neck injuries can interfere substantially with a victim’s social life.
Neck pain can cause significant sleep difficulties. Recovering from an injury is particularly difficult when you cannot find a comfortable position in which to sleep. Some neck injury victims find that they must change their sleeping position or use a different pillow to get comfortable, which may make it more difficult to fall asleep. Others find that ongoing pain makes it incredibly difficult to fall asleep at all. Regular lack of sleep following an injury can make victims feel more depressed, cause difficulties with focus and concentration, or increase the victim’s overall irritability.
What Does the Recovery From Neck Injury Look Like?
Many neck injuries heal with relatively little intervention. Some neck injuries, however, linger. If you experience continuing back and neck pain, you may need assistance to help with your recovery. This assistance may include:
- Physical therapy. Careful stretching and specific exercises can help restore strength and mobility after your neck injury. Many neck injury victims require several weeks of physical therapy to reduce their pain following the injury.
- Chiropractic care. A visit to a chiropractor can often help alleviate neck pain, especially with shifted discs and nerve pain. Following significant injury, you may need to make multiple visits to the chiropractor to help with your recovery.
- Injections for pain relief. Injections can help deliver relief directly to the site of the injury.
- Braces to help provide support. If your neck pain increases with movement in specific directions, a brace can help provide support and prevent those uncomfortable movements during the recovery process. Using a brace for too long, however, can prolong your recovery process. You should, therefore, consult with a doctor before using any type of brace.
- Rest. Rest is one of the most important components of the recovery process. When you rest, you avoid putting further stress on the affected tendons, ligaments, and muscles, allowing the neck to heal and make a faster recovery.
- Surgical intervention. For victims with some types of neck injuries, surgical intervention can help decrease pain and restore functionality. Unfortunately, many types of surgeries also permanently restrict a victim’s mobility or make it impossible for the victim to participate in some types of activities, including sports.
Seeking Compensation After an Accident Involving Neck Injuries
Even neck injuries that do not require substantial intervention may result in significant expenses. By filing a personal injury claim, you can seek compensation for those expenses. While the funds awarded to you will vary based on the circumstances of your accident, you may be able to claim:
- Compensation for your medical bills. Did you take a trip to the hospital in an ambulance? If so, that trip could cost as much as $1,200. Other medical bills can add up even more: scans and x-rays in the emergency room to determine the extent of your injuries; hospitalization, if you needed to stay overnight or longer; and physical therapy during your recovery. You may also need to cover the cost of chiropractic care after your injuries.
- Reimbursement for lost time at work. When you suffer a neck injury in an accident, you may miss a substantial amount of work during the recovery process. Some victims may miss several weeks of work while recovering. You may need a doctor to let you know when you can safely return to work after a neck injury. Serious neck injuries may also limit your ability to perform normal job responsibilities. As a result, you may not have the ability to return to work until you fully recover.
- Compensation for pain and suffering. Not only can neck injuries cause a great deal of physical pain, they can also cause significant emotional suffering as you miss out on the activities you normally enjoy and social interaction with your friends. You may also suffer embarrassment due to your injuries or the restrictions you face as a result of them. Many victims include compensation for that pain and suffering as part of a personal injury claim.
Do You Need an Attorney to Seek Compensation for Neck Injuries?
Following a serious car accident, you do not have to hire an attorney to seek compensation for your neck injuries. You can file a personal injury claim yourself and negotiate with the insurance company personally. Having an attorney on your side, however, can often increase the compensation you receive for your injuries. An attorney can also help you avoid accepting a low settlement offer and help you navigate the claims process. You may also find that having an attorney to take care of the legal aspects of your claim decreases your stress.
How Long Do I Have to File a Claim for a Neck Injury?
In general, you should file your claim as soon as possible after your accident. The sooner you contact an attorney to work on your claim, the more easily the attorney can collect evidence about your car accident and your injuries. In some cases, however, you may not know that you suffered severe neck injuries for some time after the accident.
You may also not realize how much those neck injuries will affect your life or how long it will take you to recover following your accident. Even if some time has passed since your accident, consult an attorney to learn more about your options and how long you have to file your claim. In some cases, the court may extend the statute of limitations based on when you discovered the full extent of your injuries, giving you more time to file your claim.