Car accidents are a common cause of neck and shoulder injuries, with more than 80,000 neck injuries from car accidents 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.

A neck injury car accident can cause long-term trauma. Unfortunately, many of these crash injuries don’t receive proper treatment or are left untreated altogether. Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of neck injuries, their symptoms, and treatment options.

Neck 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 cause soft tissue damage to the ligaments, neck muscles, and other connective tissues as they move forward even though the rest of the body remains still.

Symptoms of whiplash include:

  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision

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 accident 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.

Pinched Nerve

Many neck injuries can result in pinched nerves. A pinched nerve occurs when damaged tissues, bones, discs, or tendons shift out of place and rub against or compress nearby nerves. This causes severe pain and/or numbness. Pinched nerves are often caused by strains, sprains, or disc damage. The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain radiating down one arm into the hand
  • Numbness or weakness in the same area
  • Tingling or burning sensations
  • Difficulty moving affected limb(s)

Treatment depends upon the location of the injury and the severity of the symptoms. Treatment options include medications, physical therapy, injections, surgery, and chiropractic care.

Neck Sprain

Neck sprain or strain is caused by overuse or trauma. Trauma occurs when something unexpected happens, such as being in a car crash. Both types of injury cause pain when you move your head or upper neck. The pain usually starts in one area and spreads quickly. 

If you experience pain in your neck, stop what you’re doing immediately and see your doctor. Your doctor will ask about how long you’ve been experiencing problems, where it hurts, whether you had any previous injuries, and what activities make the pain worse. He or she will examine your neck carefully and take X-rays to check bone alignment. Treatment depends on the severity of your injury.

Clavicle or Humerus Fractures

Broken bones are a common injury in 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. 

Cervical Spondylolisthesis

Cervical spondylolisthesis is a misalignment of the cervical spine, meaning one or more of your neck bones are slipping out of place. This happens when there is too much space between the discs that separate your vertebrae.

The force of an accident may push one or more of those vertebrae into the wrong position. This can lead to nerve compression, which causes the symptoms you experience.

If it becomes uncomfortable enough, you might feel numbness in your arms or legs. You could even lose control over muscles used for breathing.

You may also notice weakness or loss of coordination. Your doctor may recommend surgery to realign your vertebrae. If you decide against surgery, you can try chiropractic care to help relieve symptoms.

Long-Term Complications

Neck injuries are often overlooked because many people don’t think they’re serious enough to warrant medical attention. However, the effects of a neck injury can be far-reaching and even dangerous. Chronic neck injuries can lead to headaches, jaw pain, limited range of motion, paraspinal muscle tightness, chronic pain, and more.

If you suspect you’ve been injured due to a car accident, contact our office today to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers. We’ll help you determine whether you might qualify for compensation under the law.

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 our personal injury lawyers today for your free case evaluation. Of course, you won’t pay a thing until we win your case.


How long does it take your neck to heal after a car accident?

If your neck injury is mild, and you get medical attention right away, your injury should heal within a couple of weeks to a month. However, recovery time may take longer depending on the severity and treatment plan. Consult with your medical provider if you’re experiencing any neck pain after a car accident.

How soon after a car accident can my neck and back hurt?

It is not uncommon for symptoms to appear over 24 hours after the incident. That’s why it’s important to get medical care after being in a car accident even if you don’t feel pain, and you’ll get properly diagnosed. It’s better to know if you have severe injuries sooner rather than later. A visit to the doctor will be able to tell you if you’ve suffered a spinal cord injury or a brain injury, which you may not have noticed until much later.


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