8 Most Common Neck and Shoulder Injuries from Car Accident


Car accidents are a common cause of neck and shoulder injuries, with more than 80,000 neck injuries from a car accident reported every year in the United States. According to data from the Spine Research Institute of San Diego, “minor” neck injuries account for up to 60% of all permanent impairment claims. 

Unfortunately, many of these neck and shoulder injuries from car accident don’t receive proper treatment or are left untreated altogether. Let’s take a closer look at the most common neck and shoulder injuries, the symptoms, and treatment options.

Neck and Shoulder Injuries from Car Accidents

neck and shoulder injuries from car accident

The neck is a highly vulnerable part of the body that isn’t protected during a car accident. Neck injuries are common in rear-end collisions due to the sudden force jolting the head and neck. They can occur in any type of collision, even at low speeds.

Shoulders are susceptible to seatbelt injuries. But, the impact of an accident that causes head, neck, and back injuries can also hurt your shoulder too.


Whiplash is one of the most common injuries sustained in a car accident. It’s the result of the sudden violent movement of the head and neck at impact. Whiplash can damage the ligaments, muscles, and other soft tissues in the neck as they move forward even though the rest of the body remains still.

Symptoms of whiplash include:

  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness
  • Dizziness

These symptoms may not present immediately after the car accident. That’s why you should seek medical attention even if you feel okay. Always keep track of any new symptoms or pain after a car accident

Conservatively, treat shoulder pain with anti-inflammatories and rest until you can see a doctor. Do not delay medical treatment whenever possible.

Disc Herniation

A disc protects every vertebra in your spine. The disc acts as a sponge to absorb shock and impact from our daily activities. The force of a car accident may move the disc out of place. This results in compressed nerves that cause numbness and pain. 

A disk herniation may also be called:

  • Ruptured disc
  • Slipped disc
  • Bulging disc

Any damaged discs in your neck are part of the cervical spine. Depending on the area where the disc is herniated, surgery may be necessary.

Facet Joint Injury

Facet joints are located between the bones of your spine, from your neck down the entire spinal column. The facet joints have nerve roots that go through them, connecting the spinal cord to other parts of the body. 

A car accidents may damage the facet joints or the cartilage that cushions the joints. Imaging studies like MRI are used to diagnose facet joint injury.  Except in serious injury, medication and physical rehab are often the first lines of treatment.

Fractured Vertebrae

Fractured vertebrae are most common in accidents where the seatbelt doesn’t adequately keep the body from moving. The most common is a compression fracture. This is a small crack along the vertebrae. It’s common to feel pain in the area of the fracture. Depending on where the fracture is, you may feel more pain when you walk, sit down, or breathe. Muscle weakness, tingling, and numbness are also common.

If the fracture is severe, you may require surgery. Otherwise, immobilization and rest may be all you need.

Torn Rotator Cuff 

Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that attach your humerus bone (the upper part of your arm) to your shoulder blade. It’s what you use when you rotate or lift your arm. 

If you tear your rotator cuff, you may experience debilitating shoulder pain and weakness.  You may fully recover with RICE and physical therapy. However, more severe injuries may require surgery.

Shoulder injury


Your shoulder joint may dislocate at impact. This is a serious injury that can cause long term pain if not treated right away. It can damage the joint itself, as well as surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. 

Seek medical attention right away since it can be challenging to determine whether you have a dislocated shoulder joint or a broken bone.

You must adhere to your treatment plan to help prevent arthritis in the future. 

Clavicle or Humerus Fractures

Broken bones are a common injury in a car accidents. The clavicle, or collar bone, can break due to the seatbelt. Your humerus may break if your arm is left in an awkward or unnatural position. 

Breaking your humerus or clavicle will cause neck pain and shoulder pain. You may also experience back and neck pain if there are other musculoskeletal injuries. Breaking either of these bones will also cause issues with shoulder mobility. 

Soft Tissue Damage

Soft tissue damage is common in a car accidents. Sprains and strains are among the minor injuries. 

A sprain is an injury to the connective soft tissues that connect two bones. Usually, these heal on their own with the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. However, severe sprains may require surgery to repair ligaments.

A strain is a damage to a muscle or the connective tissue that attaches muscle to bone. Surgery isn’t needed in most cases, but more severe strains may need physical rehab. It’s common to experience muscle spasms as a result of a strain. You may also experience swelling or bruising. In addition, it’s common to hear or feel a “pop” at the time of injury.

Your medical team may order an MRI or x-ray to rule out fractures and to see the extent of the injury.

shoulder pain

Long-Term Complications

When left untreated, accident-related neck and shoulder injuries can lead to chronic issues later. Even if there’s no damage to your vehicle after a car accident, always seek medical attention. Low-speed collisions can still cause neck injury. And if you ignore it, you may have neck problems for the rest of your life.

Often, whiplash is misdiagnosed or simply ignored as a significant injury. In this situation, you may suffer chronic pain for months or years after the accident.

Any neck or shoulder injury can lead to long-term complications if a medical professional doesn’t diagnose and treat it early. Chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain can affect your quality of life. You may find it difficult to concentrate or perform tasks at work. You may no longer be able to engage in the activities you used to enjoy. You may have difficulties sleeping, which impacts your overall health.

Living with chronic pain often leads to isolation and anger. It may lead to anxiety and depression.

Get Help with Your Personal Injury Case

If you’re experiencing shoulder, neck or back pain after a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Never let the fear of medical expenses stop you from seeking treatment after an auto accident. Contact us today for your free case evaluation. Of course, you won’t pay a thing until we win your case.


What Our Clients Say

Christine E.
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