What Can Cause Neck or Lower Back Pain After a Car Accident?

low back pain

The force of a car accident can be extremely damaging to the back and neck. Both these areas are vital bodily functions but are also very sensitive to sudden impact and movement.

As a car crashes into another object, the inertia of the opposing motion causes everything present in the car, including the driver and passengers, to move in that direction. Because there is only so much space to move in the vehicle, the seat belts, dashboard or any other object are going to stop the forward force. This momentum generates huge pressure on the neck and back.

Naturally, the spine is not designed to handle the sudden momentum. This is why the sudden jerking motion can cause different injuries to the spine. Both back and neck injuries can be harrowing and debilitating. This article explains the causes of the pain as well as the different types of pain you might experience as a result of an accident.

Spinal Mechanics During a Car Accident

When a person is involved in a car accident, the body stops suddenly in a way it is not used to. It doesn’t matter why the car stops; the motion is still dangerous. Once the vehicle halts, the occupants continue to be in motion until an object stops them. Most likely, the object is a seat belt. Seat belts prevent passengers from losing their life, but they can also lead to other types of injury.

The injury occurs at the place where the motion is stopped. The outside body stops at that moment, but the internal organs and the spine keep moving inside the body until they also reach a stopping point. All this happens in a fraction of a second, so the action is violent, resulting in an injury.

The back and the neck are vulnerable to injuries because of the whip-like motion of the violent braking. This is because most of the other areas, including the sacral and thoracic spine, are more stable while the back and the neck are motile and continue to move.

In some instances, snapping of bones is a benefit. For example, broken ribs may prevent damage to inner organs. Similarly, the movement of the cervical spine and lumbar spine may be protective of much more damaging injuries.

Because nearly two million people suffer injuries in car accidents every year, back and neck injuries are very common in the U.S. It might be impossible to tell how each injury occurred. However, you can predict based on statistics of back injuries and physics how many injuries are related to back and neck injuries. Some estimate that lower back pain in rear-impact car accidents affects approximately 50% of passengers. Side-impact affects 75%.

Signs That You Have Suffered a Neck or Back Injury

The side effects after suffering from a car accident are numerous and include mental, emotional, and physical challenges. Apart from back and neck pains, here are some signs and symptoms that you have suffered a neck or back injury.

  • Headaches- Headache is a common sign of a whiplash (the jerking motion that occurs as a result of accidents), but may also occur due to the same force that affects the neck and spine. The brain, too, travels inside the skull until it is stopped by the skull itself, which can cause a concussion.
  • Shoulder pains- Shoulder pains may occur as a result of whiplash and also because of muscular tension. Muscular tension occurs when a person sees the accident coming and involuntarily tenses their muscles, making them more prone to injury.
  • Extreme numbness- Can indicate whiplash or indicate nerve damage in the spine.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder- Accidents can cause a wide range of emotional changes associated with PTSD. They include nightmares, irritability, personality change, insomnia, hostility, anxiety, and depression.
  • Abdominal pain and swelling- These are severe signs that require immediate medical assistance because they can be a sign of damage to internal organs.

Types of Back Pains Caused by Accidents

Our backbones have round pieces of cartilage that cushion the body against impact. The discs also help our spine move and help us to maintain stability. After an accident, there is discomfort, pain, and uneasiness in the back and neck regions called Discogenic pain. Discogenic pain slowly leads to deterioration of spinal discs over time. Most of the individuals who feel this pain feel it in their lumbar area. However, the classification of the pain depends on a number of incidents and factors.

Lumbar Sprains

Sprains in the lower back are mostly from the excessive force that is experienced on the back. Incidences that cause lumbar sprains include accidents or when athletes lift heavyweights excessively. Another instance that may lead to the sprains in the lumbar region is improper posture during training. This physical trauma causes muscles, ligaments, and tendons to stretch to unsafe proportions.

Disc Herniation

This is an instance where there is trauma or pain directed to the discs that separate the vertebrae. The trauma occurs when the softer inner tissues in the discs protrude to the outer shell. The pain isn’t as severe, initially, but it gradually spreads to the surrounding areas. The injury is also known as slipped discs or pinched nerves.

Spinal Stenosis

This is a phenomenon where there is an abnormal contraction of a channel inside the body. It may occur when there is narrowing occurring at the point where the spinal nerve and the spinal cord is. The condition occurs mostly because of aging, but it can also occur due to the trauma that results from accidents.


Back and neck pains resulting from an injury can be treated through medications, surgery or physical therapy. Physical therapy is one of the most effective methods where the therapist helps the patients by manipulating and moving the neck and the back to reduce pain and restore movements. If your neck or back pain was caused by an accident that was not your fault, make an appointment to talk to our accident attorneys to see if you have a case for a personal injury claim.

About the Author

Angela Zervos
Angela has spent more than 20 years of her legal career fighting for personal injury victims – and against big insurance companies. As a true trial lawyer, she takes on a wide variety of personal injury claims, including those involving motor vehicle accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, medical malpractice, traumatic brain injuries, and wrongful death. Prior to starting her own law practice, Angela secured more than $80 million in settlements and jury verdicts for her clients – a 90 percent success rate since 2002. Her efforts on behalf of her clients have resulted in numerous accolades. For example, Angela maintains a “Superb” 10.0 rating from AVVO, an “AV Preeminent” rating from Martindale-Hubbell, and she is ranked among the Top 100 civil trial lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers Association. Zervos & Calta, PLLC serves the entire Tampa Bay area – including Pinellas County, Pasco County, Hernando County, and Hillsborough County – from offices in Tarpon Springs, Spring Hill, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg.