Head & Neck Injuries Are Common in Car Accidents: How to Recognize and Prevent

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Head & Neck Injuries Are Common in Car Accidents: How to Recognize and Prevent

Synopsis

  • A neck injury such as whiplash typically happens to people sitting in a car that has been rear-ended and the head is quickly forced backward or rapidly forward and is then snapped again in the opposite direction.
  • The motion causes stretching or tears and sprains of muscles and ligaments in the neck, and it may also damage the nerves and create stiffness in the soft tissues of the neck and down the spine.
  • Whiplash is most often diagnosed by medical providers when a patient shows symptoms after being involved in a car wreck, but it can also present itself days or weeks later and mask more serious injuries.
  • The injury can cause mild to debilitating pain and discomfort that impacts the ability to move and function regularly and can also result in significant medical costs related to physical therapy and sometimes even surgery.
  • At times, whiplash can mask the start of other – more serious – head, neck and back injuries as well.

How to Identify Whiplash Pain After a Car Accident

Neck sprains and strains, commonly known as whiplash, are the most frequently reported injuries in U.S. insurance claims. In 2012, the cost of claims in which neck pain was the most serious injury was about $10 billion, or 26 percent of the total payout for crash injuries mostly related to rear-end collisions. This common neck injury most often occurs when the head is suddenly forced backward or quickly forward and is then snapped again in the opposite direction.

Symptoms of whiplash do not always present themselves immediately. For example, if involved in a car wreck, the adrenalin a victim is feeling can actually make a whiplash injury unknown for some time. Once it subsides, the pain shows up and within a couple of hours to even a day later, a mild case of whiplash may start to produce the following symptoms:

  • Dull, radiating pain from the neck to the arms
  • Fatigue and dizziness
  • Headache
  • Inability to move your head with ease
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Tenderness and pain in the chest, arms, shoulders and upper back
  • Tingling and numbness in the arms
  • Weakness in your arms, hands, or legs

People with these symptoms of mild whiplash usually recover within weeks or a couple of months. Pain medication, rest, as well as physical therapy and chiropractic care seem to be the most effective treatments for mild whiplash.

In some cases involving big truck accidents, whiplash may cause lower back pain. This area of the body can be particularly sensitive to a whiplash injury because the force of the accident mixed with the unnatural movement in the lower back creates enough uneasiness to injure the spine. There are two areas of the spine that become especially vulnerable to whiplash injuries.

  1. Sacral Area: This area is located in the very bottom of the spine and consists of a flat, nearly triangular shaped bone that is joined to the lumbar spine with a sacral hinge. In general, the sacral area of the spine is a stable area for the hips and typically does not move.
  2. Lower Back (Lumbar): The lower back is an almost elastic part of the spine that consists of five lumbar vertebrae held together by tendons, cushioned by soft discs. These vertebrae have different ranges of motion depending on the person’s anatomy, but there is a considerable amount of natural movement possible.

Any form of back pain after an accident should be treated as soon as it is recognized, even if the symptoms and pain are delayed.

Recognize Serious Head and Neck Injuries and Seek Help

Even though whiplash and other head and neck injuries are serious, car accident injuries do not always present themselves immediately. For example, if involved in a car wreck, the adrenaline a victim is feeling can actually make an injury unknown for some time. Once it subsides, the pain and injuries show up and within a couple of hours to even a day later, may start to produce some of these more serious symptoms from Mayo Clinic:

  • Difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from your lungs
  • Dull, radiating pain from the neck to the arms
  • Fatigue and dizziness
  • Headache
  • Inability to move your head with ease
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Tenderness and pain in the chest, arms, shoulders and upper back
  • Tingling and numbness in the arms
  • Weakness in your arms, hands, or legs

Anyone who has experienced these symptoms should seek medical care immediately and get to an emergency room to be assessed by a professional. Immediate care will reduce the chance of complications and provide the proper documentation needed to make a case for the incident.

Head Restraints and Seat belts Can Help Prevent Whiplash

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has reported that head restraints help prevent whiplash. Researchers at IIHS go on to say, “If a head restraint isn’t behind and close to the back of an occupant’s head, it can’t prevent whiplash in a rear-end collision. When a vehicle is struck from the rear, the seatback pushes against an occupant’s torso and propels it forward. If the head is unsupported, it lags behind the torso until the neck reaches its limit, and the head suddenly whips forward. A good head restraint prevents this by moving an occupant’s head forward with the body during a rear-end crash.”

Operators and passengers should make sure their head restraints are properly adjusted before hitting the road. This means that the top of the head restraint should be even with the top of the head or, if it won’t reach, as high as it will go. The distance from the back of the head to the restraint should be as small as possible when traveling in a car or truck.

Seat belts have proven to decrease traffic fatalities and the severity of injury related to car accidents as well, especially those to the head and spine. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by wearing seat belts, drivers and their passengers can reduce the risk of serious injury, such as a neck injury, in a car crash by nearly half.

Be sure to set up a medical evaluation immediately after an accident or get to an emergency room to be assessed by a professional. This care will reduce the chance of complications and provide the proper documentation needed to make a case for the incident and have a diagnosis of the injury. 

Hold Irresponsible Drivers Accountable for Your Whiplash Related Injury

The attorneys at Wagner Reese have more than 50 years of experience in representing people just like you who have been through a difficult injury and accident experience. When you hire one of our expert lawyers to represent you in your personal injury or work accident claims, we will show the insurance companies you’re serious about receiving the full and fair settlement or jury award to which you are entitled.

If you would like legal advice on an accident, our attorneys will review your information after you call us at 888-710-9377 to schedule a free consultation or share additional details with us by submitting our online form.

About the Author:

In 2007, Jason Reese was name “Forty Under Forty” by the Indianapolis Business Journal as one the most dynamic business and community leaders in the Indianapolis metro area. From 2004-2017, Mr. Reese has been repeatedly named an Indiana Super Lawyer and recognized by attorneys throughout the State as a lawyer in the top 5% of his practice areas as published in Indianapolis Monthly and Super Lawyer magazines. Jason's law expertise are in the areas of personal injury, civil rights, class action litigation and medical malpractice.

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