The human neck does a lot of work. Not only does it house vital plumping infrastructure like arteries and the esophagus, but it also has to carry around a heavy head all day long. As a result of that workload, necks are exceptionally vulnerable to injuries in car accidents. The sudden changes in speed and direction associated with car collisions wrench the delicate ligaments and slender bones of the neck in unnatural directions, often causing severe pain.
Neck injuries can occur as a result of any type of car accident—even fender benders in parking lots. The most common type of neck injury is whiplash, which occurs when the spine and neck are violently “whipped” back and forth. This often occurs in rear-end collisions, but other types of accidents can produce similar effects. Fractured vertebrae, torn ligaments and internal bleeding can also occur in the neck area.
Neck injuries caused by car accidents aren’t always obvious, and they can be difficult to diagnose. Although victims sometimes feel severe neck pain immediately, others don’t experience any symptoms for hours or even days after a collision. When symptoms do emerge, they can appear to be unrelated to the accident. Neck pain is the most common symptom, but the absence of neck pain doesn’t imply the absence of an injury. Numbness or tingling in the feet and hands, for example, can indicate potentially severe neck problems even when the victim feels no local neck pain.
Unfortunately, even relatively mild neck injuries can linger and worsen over time. Because neck muscles have such a heavy workload, it is difficult for patients to give their necks adequate time to heal. Many people re-aggravate old injuries by trying to return to school, work, or athletic events before they are ready. In most cases, rest and physical therapy can lead to a complete recovery. Sometimes, however, victims may spend the rest of their lives suffering from severe neck pain.