Neck injuries are commonly experienced by people involved in car accidents. The neck is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body and it can be subjected to significant stress and trauma during a car accident. Your neck is a reasonably flexible part of the body. However, unlike the rest of your body, your neck is not restrained by a safety belt. In fact, when your seat belt and shoulder harness hold the rest of your body in place, the torque caused by the collision often focuses energy on your neck. For that reason, accidents involving great force can therefore result in serious neck injuries without causing injury to the rest of the body.
Common neck injuries
The neck consists of 7 vertebrae. This makes it very flexible. Sudden movements and great force can result in a variety of injuries including the following:
- Neck strains (whiplash)
The neck is surrounded by muscles that help to hold it up and assist in movement. Like muscles in other parts of the body, they can be stretched or torn. This can result in a strained or pulled muscle. A sudden acceleration/deceleration such as that experienced during a car accident can cause this type of injury. These sprains are also known as whiplash. They are the most common type of neck injury associated with car accidents.
- Neck sprain
People often confuse whiplash with neck sprains. Whiplash only occurs when the muscles or tendons in the neck are stretched or tear. Sprains occur when the ligaments are stretched or torn as a result of the sudden movements.
The symptoms of sprains and whiplash are similar. They include headaches, stiffness, shoulder and neck pain and numbness. These symptoms often begin to manifest a day or more after an accident. It is important to have your injury checked by a doctor for the best treatment.
- Herniated discs
The jerking of the neck can result in a lot of pressure pressing on the discs between the vertebrae. The discs can rupture or slip out of place. The result is a herniated disc. This can result in numbness, pain and weakness in the arms.
- Pinched nerve
Like with other parts of the spine, nerves exit and enter the cervical spine area. The nerves leaving this part of the spine lead to the arms. They are important for hand and arm movement and sensation.
These nerves can be irritated or pinched by a fragment of a herniated disc or the bone spur of the vertebrae. This results in numbness or weakness in the hands.
It is important to seek medical attention after an accident. Subsequent visits will help to detect neck injuries even when symptoms are delayed.
In addition to whiplash, a sudden acceleration/deceleration can also cause a coup-contrecoup injury to the brain. For more information about coup-contrecoup injuries, read this page.