Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of car crashes in the United States. The NHTSA reports that in 2017, over 2.1 million rear-end collisions were reported. That number accounted for about one-third of the traffic accidents that year.
Of the 2.1 million rear-end crashes in 2017, 2,456 crashes resulted in fatalities, and 615,000 crashes resulted in injuries. Many of the injuries in rear-end crashes involve back and neck injuries.
Rear-End Accident Injuries
You can sustain a wide range of injuries in a rear-end crash. Many insurance companies downplay these types of car crashes as minor “fender benders.” In reality, individuals in rear-end accidents can sustain severe and debilitating injuries.
Individuals can suffer chronic pain that interferes with their daily lives and work. They may also experience a neck or back injury that results in permanent impairments or paralysis.
How Are Individuals Injured in Rear-End Collisions?
Even in a low-impact rear-end collision, the occupants of the front vehicle receive a sudden, violent forward thrust. In many cases, the seat belt restrains the person’s body from moving too much. However, the person’s head, neck, and upper back may violently pitch forward and then slam backward.
This video from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) illustrates the force placed upon a person’s body during a rear-end crash. The person experiences a slight backward motion before the violent whipping motion forward and backward.
It is this “whipping” motion that can cause severe back and neck injuries in a rear-end collision. The motion, combined with the body’s interaction with the seat, can cause damage to the soft tissues and vertebrae in the back and neck.
Whiplash After a Rear-End Accident
The most common injury caused by rear-end crashes is whiplash. The neck and head move with the impact of the vehicle causing damage to the soft tissues of the neck. The impact of the crash can cause damage to the cervical muscles, intervertebral joints, ligaments, discs, and nerve roots.
The symptoms of a whiplash injury can appear within hours or days following a rear-end collision. Symptoms of whiplash include, but may not be limited to:
- chronic neck pain
- pain radiating from the base of the skull to the shoulders or down the arms
- blurred vision
- trouble sleeping
- ringing in the ears
- numbness or pain in the arms
- stiffness in the neck and limited range of motion
- difficulty with concentration or memory
In many cases, whiplash can be treated with rest and medications. It could take several weeks to several months for symptoms to disappear. In severe whiplash cases, a person could experience headaches, reduced range of motion, and neck pain indefinitely.
Doctors may prescribe muscle relaxants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, and antidepressants.
A cervical collar may be necessary in some cases. Physical therapy and cervical traction may also be required to help a person heal from a whiplash injury.
Other Neck and Back Injuries Caused by Rear-End Crashes
A person may sustain a variety of injuries from a rear-end accident. Other common rear-end neck and back injuries include:
- vertebrae fractures may occur anywhere along the spinal column. compression, rotation, extension, and flexion fractures of the vertebrae could result in surgery and long-term impairments.
- herniated discs occur when the soft cushion between the spinal and cervical vertebrae bulge out of place. this injury can cause severe pain and problems with mobility.
- spinal cord injuries can lead to partial or complete paralysis. the severity of the damage depends on where the injury occurred. injuries to the spinal cord higher in the back or neck result in increased loss of mobility, function, and sensation.
- strains and sprains in the neck and back can cause mobility problems and severe pain.
- spinal stenosis may occur when a ruptured disc or a bone fragment applies pressure to the spinal cord or nerves.
Prompt medical treatment is essential for managing back and neck injuries after a rear-end collision. Without prompt medical treatment, a person could develop additional symptoms, or the condition could worsen. Delays in medical care after an accident can also hurt your chances of receiving full compensation for all injuries.
Treatment for Back and Neck Injuries After a Rear-End Accident
The treatments for neck and back injuries after a car crash depend on the type and severity of the injury. A doctor performs a complete medical evaluation and examination to determine the extent of the injury. The doctor may use several diagnostic tests, including MRIs, x-rays, and CT scans, to diagnose the injury.
A treatment plan may include wearing a brace, using hot and cold compresses, physical therapy, and a variety of medications. In severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery. Occupational therapy and counseling are often used to help victims who sustained permanent disabilities or paralysis learn to cope with their limitations and restrictions.
Who Is Responsible for a Rear-End Car Crash?
In most cases, the person in the vehicle that crashed into the rear of the vehicle in front of it is liable for damages caused by a rear-end accident. However, that’s not always true. Sometimes the driver of the front car is to blame. In either case, victims may receive compensation for their medical expenses, loss of income, personal care, pain, suffering, and other damages.
While it is impossible to control what other drives may do while on the road, you can avoid rear-end accidents by keeping several car lengths between you and traffic in front of you. Avoid all distractions while driving and never drive while impaired.