With car accidents, head injury is among the most common injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that motor vehicle accidents were responsible for 25% of all TBI-related hospitalizations in 2016, and 24.5% in 2017. That makes car crashes the second most common cause of TBI, just behind falls. Other common causes of TBI include sports injuries and assault.

TBIs can range in severity, from fairly mild to life-threatening. But they’re not the only head injury to be worried about. They’re hard to detect without medical attention. Even if you feel fine after a car crash, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Some injuries and symptoms may not show up right away.

Let’s look at some of the most common head and neck injuries from car accidents.

Car Accident Head Injury

Table of contents

Concussions / Traumatic Brain Injury

A sudden jolt of the head and neck or a blow to the head causes TBI. It causes the brain to hit the skull. There are two types of traumatic brain injuries.

Closed Brain Injury

Closed brain injuries occur when there is an injury to the brain without a break in the skull. The injury is not penetrating. This is common in side-impact collisions which force the head from one side to the other rapidly. It bruises and tears brain tissue.

Penetrating Brain Injury

A penetrating brain injury happens when there is a break in the skull, such as a gunshot wound. They are less common in car accidents.

There are three classifications of TBI:


Concussions are a mild TBI. These are temporary and resolve themselves with a bit of rest. Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Problems with concentration, memory, and judgment

Suffering multiple concussions makes you more susceptible to serious injury if there’s another blow to the head.


With a moderate TBI, concussion symptoms last months to a year, and sometimes longer after the head injury. Many suffer from anxiety and depression. A person may be lethargic, but the eyes remain open to stimulation. Loss of consciousness may occur for anywhere from 20 minutes to six hours. Brain swelling or bleeding is common, which causes sleepiness. Someone can still arouse the person.


With a severe TBI, the person is not conscious and doesn’t open their eyes, even when stimulated. The loss of consciousness lasts for over six hours. Effects depend on where the injury occurs within the brain. With extensive damage to the brain, permanent disability is possible.


A contusion is a medical term for a bruise. Contusions are bruises in a specific area of the brain because of the impact. The location of the contusion plays a role in the symptoms.


You may also hear contusions referred to as coup or contrecoup. In a coup lesion, the brain is injured directly under the area of impact. In a contrecoup injury, the brain is injured on the opposite side. These are common in violent accidents, such as rollovers.

Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI)

Stretching and shearing of nerve cells at the cellular level cause this kind of injury. It happens when the brain moves quickly back and forth inside the skull, causing damage to nerve axons. Axons are the connection between nerve cells in the brain. If the extent of the injury is severe, there’s a disruption in the way the brain transmits information. It results in significant changes in a person’s wakefulness.


A hematoma is a blood clot. It forms when blood vessels rupture. The blood escapes the bloodstream, then thickens and clots to stop the bleeding. Hematomas range in size. Larger ones may compress the brain. Symptoms vary based on the location of the clot. With time, the body will reabsorb the clot. However, surgery can remove a large clot.

Traumatic Subarachnoid Hemorrhage (tSAH)

This refers to bleeding in the space surrounding the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid usually fills the space. It cushions the brain for added protection. This type of injury happens when arteries tear at the time of injury. Over time, the blood spreads over the surface of the brain. This life-threatening condition causes effects throughout the body.

Doctors diagnose traumatic brain injury with a variety of tests. Medical staff will make sure you’re alert, aware of your surroundings, etc. They’ll use MRI or CT scan to look at the brain for signs of bleeding or other damage.

Primary vs. Secondary Brain Injury

A primary brain injury is sudden injury to the brain that’s complete at the time of impact. This occurs with car accidents, falls, and gunshot wounds.

A secondary brain injury refers to changes developing over hours and days after the primary injury. It includes the changes at the cellular, tissue, blood version level that cause more destruction of the brain.

Other Head and Neck Injury from Car Accidents

In less severe car accidents, head and neck injuries are still possible. These include things like whiplash, soft tissue damage, slipped discs, fractures, and lacerations. Any impact on the head can cause head injuries that require medical attention.


Whiplash is one of the most common injuries from a car accident. The forces of a car accident often cause the body to move in unnatural ways. When most of the body stays still because of the seatbelt, but the head and neck move forward, whiplash is likely. You’ll be sore, but whiplash itself rarely causes permanent injury.

Soft Tissue Damage

Soft tissue damage encompasses a variety of body parts, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Depending on the car accident, you may have pulled muscles, sprains, and strains. You may experience bruising and swelling. You may be unable to bear weight on the affected joint. An x-ray will be necessary to rule out fractures or more serious injuries. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are enough to help heal soft tissue damage.

Slipped Discs

Discs are the protective, spongy material between the vertebrae in your spine. The sudden jolt to your neck may cause the disc to slip out of place. When this happens, it will compress the nerves in your spinal cord. You may experience:

  • Tingling or numbness
  • Pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm
  • Pain that comes and goes

Some people may not experience any symptoms.

Typically, surgery isn’t required. Physical therapy, ice, and heat are the most commonly recommended treatment. MRI and CT scans can diagnose slipped discs.


Broken bones are common in car accidents. You may break vertebrae in your neck or back. Depending on how the accident occurred and the impact, you may break other bones like your arm, wrist, leg, or ankle.

X-rays diagnose fractures. You’ll likely wear a cast or splint for 6 to 8 weeks. You may have to undergo physical therapy afterward.


Lacerations are cuts and scrapes. These are common if glass breaks or you get hit with a loose object in the vehicle during impact. Often, these heal on their own. Deep cuts will require stitches.

Have you Recently Suffered a Car Accident Head Injury?

If you were involved in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the attorneys at Denmon Pearlman for your free case evaluation today. You won’t pay anything unless we win your case.


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