Stephen Hasner | Car Accidents | March 8, 2019
Rear-end collisions occur in the blink of an eye, often with little warning for the driver in the front vehicle. They frequently occur when a driver is stopped at a stop sign or red light and another vehicle comes barreling toward them. The rear driver, unable to stop, crashes into the front car, throwing both drivers forward and often resulting in significant injuries. Those injuries may have long-term consequences for the driver of the first car, especially, who might have had no opportunity to prevent the accident.
How Injuries Occur
In a rear-end collision, the rear vehicle often strikes the front car with significant speed and force, propelling the front car forward abruptly. The driver of and passengers in the car that was hit experience a quick increase in speed and deceleration as they’re thrown backward and forward abruptly. Unfortunately, the human spine reacts poorly to these violent forces. The muscles around the spine can’t easily stabilize during the abrupt back-and-forth movement typical of a rear-end collision. Injury can occur to neck joints, ligaments, and muscles. Most commonly, rear-end collisions result in injury to the upper back and neck; however, the lower back may also suffer damage.
The Symptoms of Whiplash
Many people assume that victims make too much of whiplash following a car accident. Is it really a severe injury? The truth is, whiplash can cause serious symptoms for victims of rear-end car accidents, including:
- Neck pain and stiffness, including pain that gets worse when the neck moves
- Decreased range of motion in the neck or back, making it difficult for the sufferer to turn their head
- Pain in the upper back, shoulders, and arms, including pain that increases rather than subsiding with movement
- Headaches, including tension headaches that seem to start in the neck
- Numbness or tingling in the arms
- Burning or tingling in the neck or back
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
Even a mild case of whiplash can limit a victim’s activities for weeks, leaving her struggling to complete her daily job responsibilities or carry on with her regular activities. More serious cases of whiplash may linger for weeks or even years. Some victims experience chronic or ongoing pain in the neck, upper back, and shoulders. This pain may prevent them from returning to their normal activities or leave them unable to work in their previous occupation.
Determining the Full Extent of Neck and Back Injuries
Following a rear-end collision, victims should seek emergency medical care as soon as possible. They may opt to take an ambulance ride from the scene or, if they believe their injuries don’t warrant an ambulance, take themselves to an urgent care facility or to the hospital emergency department. In order to diagnose neck and back injuries, doctors often perform x-rays to rule out potential bone fractures. If soft tissue damage, including significant ligament damage, appears likely, doctors may prescribe an MRI or CT scan to determine the full extent of the injuries received during the crash.
While doctors can diagnose the extent of the damage, they can’t always predict how long it will take people to heal from their injuries. Some individuals with minor injuries may discover that symptoms linger long after the accident, while individuals with serious injuries may return to normal activities sooner than anticipated. Degrees of pain are difficult to fully diagnose or predict. Doctors can’t see pain on scans and are increasingly wary of prescribing addictive medications to treat it, making pain from back and neck injuries sometimes difficult to treat.
Recovering from Neck and Back Injuries after a Rear-End Collision
Recovery after a rear-end collision can vary from person-to-person, but may include:
- Wearing a cervical collar or brace. A cervical collar can help support the neck, especially in the early stages of healing, and reduce pressure on the impacted vertebrae, muscles, and ligaments. Cervical collars also help reduce movement, which can help victims cope with pain by preventing them from mistakenly making a movement that will cause extensive suffering.
- Gradually returning to normal activity. In the case of whiplash, patients often receive encouragement to return to their normal activities as soon as possible. More serious injuries, including spinal fractures or significant ligament damage, may limit the patient’s movements longer.
- Using heat or cold to help control pain. Heat can help loosen tight muscles and reduce immediate pain, while cold helps decrease swelling, which can reduce overall pain. Talking with a doctor will help patients determine which method will provide the most effective relief for their pain.
- Taking pain medications. In some cases, over-the-counter medication may adequately control pain. Other patients may find that they need a stronger prescription, especially with significant neck and back injury. Doctors try to work with patients to find a method of pain control that works effectively, without forming dangerous addictive habits.
- Visiting a chiropractor. Chiropractors can manipulate or mobilize the spine to allow joints and muscles to resume their usual place. For some patients, chiropractic care may be effective in reducing pain and restoring normal functionality, especially if the patient didn’t experience severe injuries.
- Moving through physical therapy. In the case of serious neck and back injuries, patients may need to attend physical therapy to help reduce neck and back pain. Through the physical therapy process, patients often restore their range of motion and work to strengthen impacted muscles, which can reduce overall pain and suffering. Physical therapy may offer particular benefit to patients who experienced severe loss of mobility for several weeks or months following the accident, since it can help rebuild muscle.
Do You Need a Lawyer After a Rear-End Collision?
If you’ve suffered neck and back injuries after a rear-end collision, the road to recovery may seem long. So can the road to recovering financial damages incurred as a result of your injuries and lost time at work. Luckily, just as your doctor can help you deal effectively with your injuries and improve your physical and mental wellbeing, a lawyer can help you recover financially.
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