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Neck Pain After a Crash Doesn’t Always Mean Whiplash

Feb 20, 2020 Catastrophic Personal Injury, Personal Injury, Spine Injuries, Vehicle Wrecks

Neck pain is common after a car crash. While you may assume that you have a mild case of whiplash, your aches and pains may be early signs of a serious injury, like a herniated disc or spinal fracture. So how do you tell the difference – and when should you consult with a doctor?

In this article, the Crosley Law team discusses whiplash and other conditions that can cause neck pain and suggests ways that you can protect your future after a crash.

Don’t Ignore Neck Pain Because You Think It’s “Just” Whiplash

Whiplash occurs when your head and neck forcefully snap back and forth, hyperextending it. This violent motion can damage your neck’s soft tissues, causing swelling and severe pain – and is very common during a car wreck.

Common whiplash symptoms include:

  • Pain and stiffness in your neck
  • Pain that worsens with neck movement
  • Difficulties turning your neck
  • Headaches, often at the base of the skull
  • Tenderness or pain in your shoulder, upper back, or arms
  • Tingling or numbness in your arms
  • Fatigue and dizziness

While whiplash is unlikely to be life-threatening or cause permanent damage, it’s still a painful injury that can be slow to heal. Therefore, even if you think you have whiplash, you should still see a doctor and consider filing a personal injury claim against the negligent driver.

However, getting a clear diagnosis is essential, because many of these same symptoms are also signs of a severe injury.

Other Conditions That Can Result in Neck Pain After a Crash

The spine, head, and shoulders are all areas commonly injured in a car crash. Injury to any one of these areas can result in neck pain. Let’s learn more about some common crash-related spine injuries.

Herniated (Slipped) Discs

Your discs are the jelly-filled shock absorbers that sit between your vertebrae. During a collision, forces can cause a disc’s contents to push against its tough exterior, resulting in bulges and ruptures. While a herniation itself can be painful, the bulge or rupture frequently pinches the spinal nerves and crowds the spaces around your vertebrae, causing even more symptoms. Herniated discs in the neck are common after a crash, especially those involving a sideswipe.

Symptoms may include:

  • Neck pain
  • Pain between your shoulder blades
  • Pain that radiates from your back down your arms
  • Arm weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in the shoulder
  • Increasing pain when you move your neck

Sometimes, a herniated disc will mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or a shoulder injury. If you’re experiencing serious neck, arm, or shoulder pain, consult with your doctor.

Cervical Spondylolisthesis

When you have a cervical spondylolisthesis, at least one of your vertebrae has dislocated or slipped out of alignment. Sometimes, this is due to the aging process; many people have a mild spondylolisthesis in their back and never realize it. However, trauma can also cause a dislocation, especially at the top of your neck.

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When a vertebra moves too far out of alignment, it can result in:

  • Pain radiating from your neck to shoulder
  • Focused pain in your shoulder
  • Pain in the back of the head
  • Pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms

A severe dislocation typically requires stabilization surgery and either a traditional neck brace or halo brace to keep the spine aligned properly. You may have to wear a brace for several months, limiting your ability to do even simple tasks.

Because many people have mild spondylolisthesis and are asymptomatic, these injury claims can be complex. The insurance company may argue that your condition existed before the crash and deny your claim. To combat these tactics, you’ll need an experienced lawyer and multiple experts who can show how your spondylolisthesis was caused or worsened by the collision.

Compression and Other Spinal Fractures

Compression fractures are the most common type of vertebral spinal fracture. It takes a lot of force to fracture your spine’s sturdy bones – like a high-impact car crash. If the force is strong enough, it can shatter or compress the vertebra, even sending bone fragments into the spinal canal.

While fractures are most common in the mid and low-back, they are also possible in the neck. If your doctors suspect you have a spinal fracture, they will act quickly to assess whether your spinal cord is damaged or at risk.

Common symptoms include pain in the neck, back, and arms. You may also experience numbness or weakness in your arms if the fracture damaged your spinal cord or nerves. Depending on the complexity of your injury, you may require pain management and stabilization of the neck with braces or surgery.

“Common symptoms include pain in the neck, back, and arms. You may also experience numbness or weakness in your arms if the fracture damaged your spinal cord or nerves. Depending on the complexity of your injury, you may require pain management and stabilization of the neck with braces or surgery.“

Like spondylolisthesis, compression fractures can also be related to your age and preexisting conditions like osteoporosis. If the insurance company argues that your compression fracture isn’t related to the accident, contact an experienced injury lawyer right away.

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When Should I Talk to My Doctor About Crash-Related Neck Pain?

While a lot of people think their neck pain will go away, post-crash soreness may be a sign of a serious spine condition. Therefore, never ignore neck pain after a wreck. However, some neck conditions take time to develop. For example, you may herniate a disc in a car crash, but may not start to notice radiating or burning pain until several days later.

If you have neck discomfort, it’s best to see a doctor – even if you think you it will go away with a little rest. And if you delay treatment or start experiencing symptoms later on, make sure you tell your doctor about the crash and how your symptoms developed as soon as possible.

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Crosley Law Understands Complex Neck and Spin Injuries

If you or a loved one are experiencing neck pain after a crash, see a doctor right away and call Crosley Law for help getting the compensation you deserve. Contact us at 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 or fill out our quick online form to schedule your free consultation today.


American Association of Neurological Surgeons. (2019). Herniated disc. AANS Neurosurgical Conditions and Treatments. Retrieved from https://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Herniated-Disc

Hashish, R., Badday, H. (2017). Frequency of acute cervical and lumbar pathology in common types of motor vehicle collisions: a retrospective record review. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 18:437. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5680606/

The American Center for Spine & Neurosurgery. (2019). Spondylolisthesis (Cervical). ACS Neuro Conditions and Treatment Options. Retrieved from http://acsneuro.com/conditions_and_treatments/cervical_spine_detail/spondylolisthesis_cervical.html

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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