You’ve been in an auto accident. The impact was stronger than you expected, but it could have been worse. Now your neck is hurting. You’ve thought about talking to a doctor or a car accident lawyer (or both). But is it really that serious?
If the scenario sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. Neck injuries are the most common complaints after auto accidents in Ohio. Millions of people have found themselves in the same position.
It’s important to make sure you aren’t underestimating your injury. Likewise, it’s crucial that you do not sign any agreements with an insurance company until you’ve made sure you really understand what’s going on with your neck.
How do you know if you have a serious neck injury after a car accident? Let’s look at the various types of neck injuries, the most common symptoms, and how they develop.
Common Examples of a Serious Neck Injury After a Car Accident
Even though people usually talk about the neck as a singular body part, it is actually made up of many different complex parts and structures. These include muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, arteries, veins, blood vessels, nerves, and more.
There are many types of serious neck injuries. Diagnosis is made on the basis of the patient’s symptoms (see below), as well as the specific parts of the neck that are involved.
Common examples of a serious neck injury after a car accident include:
- Whiplash — The single most common injury in car accidents in Ohio, whiplash is caused by a quick “whip-like” rocking of the head (or neck) during impact, putting excessive strain on the surrounding structures and leading to a constellation of significant symptoms.
- Neck strain — Like any other muscle in your body, the muscles in your neck are easily strained. While some strains are mild and resolve on their own, others can cause serious muscle damage and may lead to even further injury.
- Other soft tissue damages — A soft tissue injury is any neck injury that does not principally involve bone. Whiplash and neck strain are two of the most common examples, but a car accident can cause various other types of soft tissue damage, both in and around the neck.
- Muscle spasms — Muscle spasms in the neck typically occur as a secondary result of an underlying injury (e.g. whiplash, injured discs, injured ligaments, nerve damage, brain damage, etc.)
- Rhabdomyolysis — When muscles are injured in an auto accident, the breakdown of the muscle tissue can release a toxic protein into the bloodstream. The protein builds up rapidly and can cause serious or fatal injury to the internal organs.
- Bruises, abrasions, and lacerations — While mild bruises may improve on their own with self-care, more serious abrasions and lacerations can lead to bacterial infection, blood poisoning (septicemia), extreme pain, dangerously high blood pressure, tissue death (gangrene), permanent cosmetic damage, extreme emotional distress, shock, and more.
- Injured discs — The force of impact can cause the vertebrae and/or discs within your spine to slip or rupture. Alternatively, these discs can become “herniated” (similar to a hernia in your abdomen, only involving the discs between your spinal vertebrae instead). This can lead to a wide range of problems in the neck and elsewhere in the body.
- Vocal cord damage — If the car accident impacts your larynx, it can cause damage to your vocal cord, which may lead to permanent vocal paralysis or the inability to engage in independent speech.
- Arterial dissection — Several crucial arteries run through your neck, allowing for blood to flow back and forth between your heart and your brain. These arteries are frighteningly sensitive to dissection or tears. In fact, people have dissected their arteries merely by dancing or turning their head too forcefully. As you can imagine, the force of impact can lead to even more serious arterial dissections, which can cause blood clots, stroke, heart attack, or other life-threatening injuries.
- Brain damage — When brain damage happens in connection with a serious neck injury after a car accident, it is usually because of arterial dissection, whiplash (which can cause the brain to slam against the hard surface of your skull), spinal cord injury, or a direct blow to the head.
- Mental health issues — Occasionally, brain damage or cervical spine injuries can lead directly to mental health issues. More commonly, car accident victims suffer from emotional or mental health related to the difficulties of coping with a serious neck injury or serious car crash.
You might be surprised to see whiplash on this list. Many people regard it as a minor or even laughable injury, but those of us who work with whiplash victims firsthand understand that it’s no laughing matter. Often times Whiplash is used to describe a mild injury; however, when someone’s spine is suddenly and unexpectedly whipped back and forth it can cause serious and long lasting injuries – especially when the discs between the bones are damaged. When the discs between the bones of a person’s back are damaged, it causes the disc material to press on the spinal nerves, which is extremely painful.
Even in accidents as slow as five miles per hour, whiplash can cause serious symptoms that last for weeks, months, or years. Whiplash victims frequently require time away from work and ongoing medical care.
Understanding How Symptoms Develop from a Neck Injury
Not all injuries develop in the same way. If you break a bone, for example, the injury may become obvious pretty quickly. But neck injuries tend to develop more gradually.
It is extremely common for accident victims to think their neck is fine or “just a little sore” — at first. But as adrenaline wears off and inflammation sets in, the symptoms of serious neck injury tend to become more pronounced.
Your pain and other symptoms may continue to get worse over the course of days, weeks, or even longer. Worse yet, serious injuries like a bulging or ruptured disc in your back cannot be diagnosed with an x-ray. Often times an accident victim will go to the Emergency Department, given an x-ray, and discharged with a diagnosis of neck strain. It is not until months later when the client, still experiencing pain, gets an MRI which shows a herniated disc.
Symptoms of a Serious Neck Injury After a Car Accident
The symptoms of a neck injury may be felt in the neck itself or in the surrounding parts of the body, including the head, face, eyes, throat, shoulders, arms, back, and even the legs.
Symptoms may include:
- Pain, tenderness, or tightness
- Worsened pain when moving the neck
- Reduced range of motion
- Stiff neck
- Jaw pain
- Pain between the shoulders
- Chronic fatigue
- Dizziness / impaired balance
- Blurred vision
- Muscle spasms, including eyelid spasms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Swelling in the neck or inside the throat
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Sudden medical emergencies that arise soon after a neck injury in a car accident
When in Doubt, Check It Out
How do you know if you have a serious neck injury after a car accident? Take your symptoms seriously. Listen to your body.
It is important not to downplay neck pain after an auto accident. Only a physician can tell you if your injuries are serious. A comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, including x-rays or other imaging tests, can give you a better understanding of any damage you might have suffered.
Always remember this simple rule: when it doubt, check it out. See a doctor even if you aren’t sure you need to.
Schedule a Cost-Free, No-Obligation Legal Consultation in Ohio
If you have been injured in an auto accident in Ohio and are now experiencing the signs or symptoms of a serious neck injury, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.
Colombo Law proudly serves neck injury victims all across the state of Ohio, not only in Columbus but also in Chillicothe, Circleville, Heath, Hebron, Lancaster, New Lexington, Newark, Pataskala, Westerville, and beyond.
To get started, call 888-860-1414 (614-362-7000 in Columbus) or simply contact us online.