One of my clients came to me after being involved in a rear-end car accident, so I did some research and this is what I found.
Getting rear-ended in traffic. Face-planting at the bottom of a ski slope. Tumbling over the handlebars on your bike. Whiplash comes in many forms and can become a long-term problem if not treated correctly. Fortunately, massage and bodywork can address the ache and discomfort that come with whiplash and prevent chronic pain down the road.
The term “whiplash” came into use in 1928. Doctors will sometimes use “hyperextension injury,” to describe it, but “whiplash” is a more visceral account of what has happened to the victim’s neck. The neck itself has made a whip-like motion bending first towards and then away from the point of impact. As the head moves rapidly in one direction, the muscles in the neck receive the message to contract. The momentum of the head can cause strain or sprain to the muscles and ligaments in the neck as the head reaches the end of its movement. Car accidents are the most common causes of whiplash. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reported that about 20 percent of people who have been in rear-end collisions later report whiplash symptoms. Whether front to back or side to side, whiplash can affect muscles all the way into the victim’s back and arms. The most serious form of whiplash compresses nerves in the neck and causes multiple sprains of the ligaments. The good news is, that serious hyperextension injuries are in the minority, as whiplash usually comes in the less serious version of the injury. “Fortunately, about 95 percent of the time whiplash tends to be more superficial damage, like slight muscle strains and tears,” says Ben Benjamin, Ph.D., a massage therapist who holds a doctorate in education and sports medicine. But whether the pain is minor soreness or serious discomfort, massage can provide relief and prevent chronic problems in the long run.
The symptoms of whiplash include neck pain and stiffness, headaches, pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades (sometimes called “coat hanger pain”), low back pain, and pain or numbness in the arms or extremities. Often people who suffer whiplash do not feel the effects until two or three days after the injury-causing incident. This delayed onset is because it takes time for scar tissue to manifest in the sprained or strained muscles and ligaments. And because scar tissue is more adhesive than regular tissue, people experience stiffness in the injured areas. Whiplash affects primarily the neck, but victims shouldn’t ignore the rest of the body. This injury can pull the long muscles on either side of the spine, which reach all the way to the tailbone and can cause discomfort along the way. Discomfort or stiffness in the chest and arms can also be due to whiplash. And headaches may be the result of slowed circulation to the head caused by the swelling in the injury.
Massage Can Help
Any massage that causes a general relaxation of the client’s muscles can help relieve muscular pain in common types of whiplash injuries. In addition, massage increases the amount of oxygen that reaches the injured tissues and opens those tissues so they can receive oxygen and nutrients, thus speeding the recovery process. In addition to relaxation massage, specific bodywork methods ease acute whiplash discomfort and help prevent chronic fallout. For example, myofascial approaches restore fluidity to the fascia—normally a slippery tissue that surrounds all the moving parts inside the body–allowing free movement of muscles and ligaments. Friction-based massage helps break up scar tissue and relieve stiffness. Trigger point therapy works by releasing tension held in tight knots of muscle. And any type of bodywork that stimulates circulation helps ease and prevent headaches. Finally, the incident that caused the whiplash in the first place, (a car wreck, for instance) can be traumatic. Massage helps relax a client’s psyche as well as their muscles, helping her or his work through the emotional issues induced by the accident. Because the neck is such a delicate part of the body, it is important to proceed with caution. Benjamin advises waiting a few days after the accident to seek treatment. This allows the initial scar tissue to knit, which is an important part of the healing process. The initial treatment should be extremely gentle, and if there is a chance of a fracture, a concussion, any disc problem, or another serious injury, the client should make sure to see a physician first.
It used to be that physicians would immobilize whiplash injuries with a cervical collar, but now health care professionals advise a more temperate course for their patients. “I recommend gentle neck movement within your range of motion while lying on a pillow,” says Benjamin. Movement may help prolong the benefits of the massage by continuing to circulate blood, oxygen, and nutrients through the healing tissue. “Heat or cold, whichever feels better, can also help,” says Benjamin. “Soaking in a hot bath can also be beneficial.” Limiting physical activity for a few days and getting plenty of rest in the wake of a whiplash injury is also a good idea. Whiplash is traumatic and should be addressed soon after the injury to avoid any chronic problems. If you or someone you love is suffering from the repercussions of whiplash, consider a bodywork session to ease the discomfort. Massage can help lessen muscle pain, induce relaxation, and ease the trauma often associated with whiplash. You’ll be back to your old self in no time. Car accident injuries and damages caused by a rear-end collision (when the front of a vehicle crashes into the back of another vehicle) can vary between a minor dent and bruising to a totaled car and traumatic brain injuries. Many often underestimate how injured they really are and how much medical care and repairs must be done. Any wreck, no matter how minor it may seem, should be taken seriously from the start. Let’s examine some of the most common effects of being rear-ended.
Muscles involved in Rear-end Car Accidents
Most Common Physical Injuries After a Rear-End Car Accident
Here is a list of some of the physical and emotional effects of being rear-ended, from the most common injuries to the more extreme injuries:
Whiplash and Neck Injuries
Whiplash refers to neck, shoulder, and upper back injuries caused by the head and neck being snapped forward by sudden movement. Even at low speeds, a fender bender can cause whiplash. The impact causes the muscles and ligaments of the neck and shoulder to stretch beyond their normal range in a fraction of a second, straining or tearing soft tissue. Whiplash injuries can be quite painful and may linger for days or weeks. Severe pain that persists for several days, spreads throughout the arms and legs, and/or creates numbness, weakness, or tingling should never be ignored. These signs are the body’s way of saying something is very wrong. Other whiplash symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, stiffness, muscle spasms, and shoulder pain.
Back and Spinal Injuries
Back and spinal injuries are also common in rear-end car accidents. Spinal injuries are serious because they can stay with a person for the rest of their life. The force and impact from being rear-ended can compress the spine, put pressure on the vertebrae, and bruise lower back muscles and ligaments. One of the most common symptoms we hear about after a person is hurt in a rear-end collision is bulging and herniated discs. A disc sits in between the bony vertebra of the spine. Shaped like small pancakes, these gelatinous structures act as shock absorbers and use ligaments to hold the spine together. But a rear-end accident can force these discs out of position or cause them to tear open and leak, putting painful pressure on the spinal cord. This pinching can cause symptoms including pain, numbness, or tingling in the back or other parts of the body. Another common back injury caused by rear-end crashes that many people don’t know about our facet joint injuries.
Arm and Wrist Injuries
A driver typically has their hands on the steering wheel at the time of a rear-end collision. They may have even noticed the vehicle coming toward their rearview mirror and instinctively braced their arms for the impact. By stiffening the hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders, the person may suffer multiple injuries. This can include broken wrists, wrist sprain, stress fractures, a dislocated shoulder or joint, and tendon damage.
Broken Bones and Fractured Ribs
An airbag deploying in a rear-end crash can punch a person in the chest, potentially causing broken bones in the ribcage. Cracked ribs may also be caused by the seatbelt pulling taut. Loose objects inside the vehicle can smash into the victim’s face or the victim’s limbs could strike against a part of the car. It may not always be obvious that a bone is fractured, especially after a traumatic accident. A non-obvious broken bone may be accompanied by a deep, intense ache or sharp pain. Other signs include bruising, stiffness, swelling, heat, weakness, dizziness, or feeling chilly. You may have trouble using the affected body part or notice the bone seems bent at an odd angle.
Facial Injuries and Disfigurement
Facial scarring and disfigurement are serious side effects of a rear-end car accident. Types of facial injuries include bruising, cuts, lacerations, scrapes, broken noses, and dental issues such as broken or knocked-out teeth and jawbone damage. Shattered glass, unsecured debris, and/or slamming into the window, dashboard, or steering wheel are all reasons why someone could suffer an injury to the face due to their car being struck from behind. Some of these facial injuries will require long-term treatment and multiple surgeries to help the victim recover. Serious scarring or deformities may also necessitate counseling.
Skull and Brain Injuries
A vehicle does not have to be going fast to cause injuries when it crashes into the back of another car. Any rear-end collision can lead to brain or head injuries given the right circumstances. Head injuries may be obvious, especially if a person was impaled or has an open head wound. The most dangerous type of head injury is a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Whiplash can cause the brain to slam against the skull, causing a concussion, bruising, bleeding, torn neurons, and swelling. Concussions, no matter how “mild,” should be taken seriously. Head trauma can cause problems days or weeks after the rear-end crash and your symptoms should never be ignored. Treating a head injury or a brain injury can take weeks, months, or years. The damage can sometimes be permanent, even deadly.
Crushed Limbs, Amputation, and Paralysis
A severe car accident may involve high speeds, cause a chain reaction wreck, shove a vehicle into oncoming traffic, or force it into the back of another car. Any of these scenarios can cause serious injuries to the spine, leaving a victim partially or fully paralyzed. Spinal injuries may be permanent or require years of treatment and physical therapy to gain a mild recovery. In severe rear-end accidents where the car is totaled or crumpled, the victim’s limbs may be crushed or severed. They may be faced with the agonizing choice of either salvaging a damaged limb or removing it. They may also have woken up in the hospital with their limb already amputated. Crushed limbs and amputation are serious, life-altering injuries requiring multiple surgeries, hospitalizations, and often decreased quality of life.
Emotional Effects of a Rear-End Accident
The emotional aftermath of a rear-end accident can also take a toll on an injured victim and their family. Medical bills, debt collectors, missing work or school, nightmares, and anxiety can leave a person feeling overwhelmed and distressed. Fortunately, Georgia state law allows injured victims of rear-end collisions the right to pursue a personal injury settlement. The hours and days immediately after a rear-end accident are crucial for building a case. Nothing can undo what happened, but you can make sure that you are financially compensated for your pain and suffering.
Who Covers the Costs of a Rear-End Collision?
If you were not the person who caused the wreck, then you have the right to recover a rear-end collision settlement. That means the person who is at fault for the crash is financially responsible for the damages, losses, and bills you accrue. Typically, the person’s car insurance provider will step in to cover the accident’s expenses, including time missed from work, vehicle repairs, physical therapy, and other costs.
Types of Back Injuries Caused by Motor Vehicle Accidents
The spine is made of 33 small individual bones called “vertebrae.” These are typically divided into three sections: the cervical vertebrae in the neck, the thoracic vertebrae in the upper back, and the lumbar vertebrae in the lower back. Many structures of the body surround the vertebrae of the spine — muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs, and nerves. Injury to any of these may cause pain that can range from mild to debilitating. Sometimes back pain is temporary, but in other cases, it is permanent and can only be treated, not cured. These are some of the most common injuries people get in car accidents that are likely to cause back pain: In the United States, car and other vehicle crashes are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries, which often have devastating consequences. Even a relatively minor car accident can cause back injuries because our backs can’t safely absorb the immense force of a crash. Back injuries can be expensive to treat and can severely affect your life. You may be entitled to receive compensation for your losses and injuries, but it is difficult to navigate the legal system by yourself. Insurance companies may try to take advantage of people who file claims without being represented by a lawyer, and you could miss out on much of the compensation that the law provides.
Types of Back Injuries Caused by Motor Vehicle Accidents
The spine is made of 33 small individual bones called “vertebrae.” These are typically divided into three sections: the cervical vertebrae in the neck, the thoracic vertebrae in the upper back, and the lumbar vertebrae in the lower back. Many structures of the body surround the vertebrae of the spine — muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs, and nerves. Injury to any of these may cause pain that can range from mild to debilitating. Sometimes back pain is temporary, but in other cases, it is permanent and can only be treated, not cured.
The most common form of neck injury is whiplash, which is often caused by low-speed rear-end collisions. The force of the impact of a vehicle crash makes the head jerk back and forth in the whip-like motion that gives this injury its name. The violent motion can stretch or tear the neck’s muscles and tendons. Mild cases of whiplash can be treated at home with over-the-counter pain medication and exercise and will usually get better by themselves. More serious cases may cause chronic neck pain and require more extensive medical care.
Muscle Strains and Sprains
The impact of an auto accident can tear or abnormally stretch back muscles and tear ligaments away from their attachments. Symptoms of these soft-tissue car accident injuries include pain, stiffness, limited range of motion, and/or spasms. Home treatments for mild and moderate cases include anti-inflammatory medication and applying heat and cold. More severe cases may require physical therapy and can take longer to heal.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Spinal discs lie between the vertebrae. Any problems with the discs can cause severe back pain from the discs themselves or because they are pressing on nerves. Degenerative disc disease is often age-related wear and tear on the discs over time, but the impact of a car crash can cause an instant disc injury. Treatment options range from medication to surgery, depending on the nature and severity of the condition.
Spinal Cord Injuries
A sudden blow to the spine can cause severe, permanent, and disabling injuries. Spinal cord injuries are the worst type of back injury. For younger people, car accidents are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries. Someone with spinal cause injuries may lose function and sensation below the injury site. In addition to total or partial paralysis, spinal cord injuries can cause chronic pain, blood clots, infections, and other severe problems.
Lumbar Spine Injury From Car Accident
The lumbar spine is the low back, just above the sacrum, which is the lowest part of the spine. In the numbering system that doctors use, the vertebrae in the lumbar spine are numbered L1 through L5, and they are the spine’s largest vertebrae. The lumbar spine provides stability to the back, and the muscles in the lumbar region are the spine’s strongest. A car accident can strain or sprain the muscles of the lumbar spine, causing lower back pain, swelling, and bruising and limiting the car accident victim’s ability to move.
Thoracic Spine Injury Caused by a Car Accident
The thoracic spine is the upper and middle back, between the neck and lumbar spine and supporting the rib cage. The vertebrae are numbered T1 to T12. Injuries to the thoracic spine are often the most severe back injuries. High-speed car accidents that cause sprains or fractures in the thoracic spine can lead to permanent nerve damage.
Spinal Cord Injury After Car Accident
The spinal cord consists of nerve cells and fibers extending from the brain stem to the lower back. It runs through the vertebrae, which surround and protect it. The vertebrae, spinal cord, and the discs between the vertebrae make up the backbone or spinal column. A crucial role is played by the spinal cord, which carries signals from the brain to the body. Spinal cord injuries caused by car crashes are the most serious back injuries. These injuries can result in paralysis, loss of sensation, or death.
Herniated Disc From Car Accident
The sudden impact of a car crash can damage discs, and the consequences can be severe. The spine has 23 discs that separate the vertebrae and cushion and seal the spaces between them. A herniated disc, also commonly called a slipped disc, occurs when a disc gets damaged, and its soft inner core leaks out. The disc becomes displaced and can press on nearby nerves. Pain can be intense. A herniated disc can occur in any part of the spine but is more common in the lumbar region (lower back), where it can cause numbness in the legs and feet. Herniated discs in the cervical spine (neck) can make the arms and hands numb.
Common Symptoms of a Back Injury
Back injuries are common after car crashes. Sometimes, the symptoms don’t appear until the next day. If you have any of the following symptoms after a car accident, you should see a doctor right away, even if they are mild. Don’t take any chances! Back injuries can cause permanent disabilities. You should become aware of the common symptoms of back injuries to know when you need to seek medical attention. Symptoms That are Warning Signs of a Back Injury:
- Pain can be mild, moderate, or severe.
- Pain that radiates down the buttocks and legs.
- Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, legs, or feet.
- Difficulty standing or walking.
- Muscle spasms.
What to Do if You Feel Back Pain after a Car Accident
Our backs are a complex and delicate system of nerves, bones, discs, muscles, and tendons. They hold us up, enable our movements, and carry messages from the brain to the rest of the body. All the components of the back are vulnerable to injury, especially to the kind of forceful, sudden impacts that occur in car accidents. The effects can be devastating. You should get medical attention after a crash as soon as possible to get a diagnosis and begin any necessary treatment. Once you have seen a doctor, you should talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer. Claims for back injuries are often complex and, because the amount of money at stake can be high, the other party’s insurance company will often put up a fight.
Treatment for Back Injuries
Common Treatments Include:
- Diagnosis using an MRI, CT scans, or x-rays.
Short-Term Care May Include:
- Resting for a few days after the accident.
- Over-the-counter pain killers and anti-inflammatories.
- Prescribed painkillers or muscle relaxants.
- Physical therapy.
- Corticosteroid injections.
- Chiropractic care.
Long-Term Care Which May Include:
- Surgery may be required for spinal cord injuries, herniated discs, and fractures.
- Physical, occupational, or speech therapy.
- Support groups.
Compensation for a Back Injury Due to a Car Accident
If you were injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses and for any income you lost from not being able to work the way you could before the accident. You may also be eligible to get compensation for your pain and suffering, and this amount can be substantial. Back injuries can be deceiving. The onset of pain can be delayed, and the pain may be mild even if the injury is severe and potentially disabling. You should monitor yourself for any unusual sensations in your back and get medical attention immediately if you experience even mild back pain or discomfort. The sooner you start any necessary treatment, the better your chances are for recovery. Getting a medical exam early on is also helpful for documenting the extent of your injuries and how they will affect your life. This will be helpful when you file a claim for your injuries and need to prove that you are entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering.
*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. These statements are not expressions of legal opinion relative to the scope of practice, medical diagnosis, or medical advice, nor do they represent an endorsement of any product, company, or specific massage therapy technique, modality, or approach. All trademarks, registered trademarks, brand names, registered brand names, logos, and company logos referenced in this post are the property of their owners.