What you Need to Know about Neck Pain after a Car Accident

Neck Pain After a Car Accident

You’re head weighs roughly about as much as a bowling ball and sits on top of a small column of bones.  An intricate and amazing layout of muscles and ligaments keeps your head up and your eyes level with the horizon.  Unfortunately, when another car hits our car from any direction, our necks and backs are easily  hurt by the forces involved.  Add the fact that most  people have poor posture which weakens certain muscles and you have a recipe for easy injury, pain, and poor recovery.


A common name for neck pain following a car accident is whiplash.  It is called this because when you are hit, your body “jolts” forward with the car but your head and neck take time to catch up.  This is similar to what happens when you crack a whip.   Pain could develop instantly or days after the car accident.  The Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders states that “approximately 50% of those with whiplash associated disorder (WAD) report neck pain symptoms one year following initial injury”.

It is easy to see then that you should certainly not ignore neck pain or other symptoms and even if you don’t have pain initially you should have an exam done by a doctor.    S/he might be able find something that seems inconsequential now but may lead to big problems later.

Common causes for Neck Pain from an Accident

A Graceful Neck, but susceptible to neck pain from a car accident

Photo used under Creative Commons from juliejordanscott

As stated above, when your head whips forward and backward the tissues that make up your neck are easily torn or broken, leading to neck pain.  Common injuries include simple sprains and strains of the ligaments and muscles, disc bulge, protrusion, or herniation, broken bones, loss of proper posture(straight or military neck), radiating pain, and other more severe injuries.  These could lead to chronic neck pain or disability if not treated properly.

Should you see a chiropractor?

A chiropractor will perform a history, examination, and imaging as necessary to diagnose your neck pain after you’ve been in a car accident.  Car accidents are pretty serious traumas and most chiropractors will want to have at least x-rays of your spine to exclude fractures and examine how your neck is functioning.  If there was any head trauma involved, an MRI would likely be ordered.  A chiropractor should also be willing to work with another healthcare provider should you need muscles relaxers, pain killers, or more intensive rehabilitation.

The typical treatment would initially consist of chiropractic adjustments and physiotherapy (massage, ice, muscle stimulation) followed by less frequent adjustments and a rehabilitation program to restore any lost strength and endurance.  Injuries take about 8-12 weeks to fully heal, but may take longer for a variety of reasons.  If everything goes well, you will hopefully feel as though you were never involved in a car accident.

Many states have laws that cover your medical bills if you were injured in an accident.  The laws are called personal injury laws and some will cover the bill whether it was your fault or not.  Contact a lawyer or someone with specific knowledge and experience of your area’s laws if you are unsure of what to do about your neck pain.  Compensation for your current and anticipated medical bills is often covered if the accident was not your fault.


Carroll LJ, Holm LW, Hogg-Hognson S, et al.  Course and prognostic factors for neck pain in whiplash-associated disorders (WAD): results of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders.  Spine.  2008;33 (4 Suppl):S83-92

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