What Causes Neck & Lower Back Pain After a Car Accident?

January 5, 2023
What Causes Neck & Lower Back Pain After a Car Accident?

Car Accidents Have a High Risk of Causing Neck and Back Injury

What is causing your neck and lower back pain after a car accident?

How long does back pain last after a car accident?

My lower back is killing me after a car accident. What should I do?

When do I need a car accident lawyer after suffering back or neck pain?

While the majority of drivers on Florida roads are focused and attentive, many can be reckless and negligent. This recklessness can lead to car accidents with severe consequences, like back and neck injuries.

Following a car accident, back and neck pain can be a sign of a potentially severe injury that can affect your daily life. Car accident injury damages, such as medical bills, lost work, and pain and suffering, can add financial pressure while you try to recover from your injuries. You could pursue compensation for damages caused by a negligent driver by filing a car accident claim with the at-fault party's insurance company.

Suffering neck or back pain after a car accident is common. However, it does not have to de-rail your entire life. If you experienced lower back or neck pain after an auto collision caused by another's negligence, you should seek the guidance of an experienced car injury attorney to help assess what legal options are available to you.

What Causes Neck and Back Injuries During Car Accidents?

Car accidents and the force that goes along with them can severely damage the neck and back. These accidents are the leading cause of neck injuries that result in long-term suffering and significant socio-economic cost to the victims and their families. More than 800,000 cases of vehicle crashes involving neck injuries are reported in the U.S. annually, and the cost of treatment is as high as $5.2 billion.

The following are some of the ways a car accident can result in long-term neck and lower back pain:

  • Whiplash: A car accident impact can result in your body violently shaking, which often is referred to as whiplash. This motion can apply severe trauma to the neck and back, leading to long-term neck and back pain.
  • Disc Injuries: The vertebrae in the spine are cushioned and protected by discs. Discs are small, round formations of cartilage that hold the vertebrae together and serve as shock absorbers for the spine. Trauma to the back from a car accident can result in a herniated disc that can cause back pain and potentially injure the spinal cord.
  • Facet Joint Injuries: The spine's vertebral bones are connected by a pair of facet joints, which are located at the back of each spinal segment. Facet joints in the lower back have to bear immense weight and pressure, which can leave them vulnerable to injury from car accident impact. A facet joint injury can lead to chronic pain in the back.
  • Cervical Spine Injuries: The cervical spine is the part of the spine that comprises the neck. It contains seven stacked bones, with impact to any of them leading to a cervical spine injury. This severe spinal injury can result in intense neck and back pain and lead to a total or partial loss of sensory function.

Whiplash from a Car Accident Can Cause Neck and Back Pain

When a car hits something, or something hits a car, the inertia of the opposing force causes everything in the car, including a human, to move in that direction – and there is only so much room to move. Eventually, the seat belt, car door, dashboard, or some other object will stop that forward momentum. This force often generates enormous pressure on the neck and back.

This jerking motion is rapid, like a whip, and can cause a neck injury often referred to as whiplash. Whiplash can cause several different injuries to the spine. Neck and lower back injuries are some of the most common you can experience after a car accident.

Whiplash injuries can be both debilitating and extremely painful. Two of the most common pain-generating injuries of the spine are discogenic (disc) injuries and facet joint injuries.

Upper and Middle Back Pain After Whiplash in a Car Accident

The thoracic spine (located directly under the cervical spine of the neck) comprises your upper and mid-back. By nature, the thoracic spine is far more rigid and biomechanically supported than the lumbar spine, hence why thoracic spinal injuries are rare. The thoracic spine (T1- T12) consists of twelve vertebrae. 

You may not know that whiplash can cause upper and mid-back pain and is not limited to the neck. A doctor can perform fusions and laminectomies on the thoracic disc levels no different than the cervical and lumbar spine. However, surgery should only be attempted when all less restrictive measures, including conservative care, interventional pain management, and injection therapy, have been explored and failed.

Acceleration-Deceleration Causes Trauma to the Spine During a Car Accident

Acceleration-deceleration is the leading cause of trauma to the spine during a car accident. A common result is a herniated disc. In fact, asymptomatic discogenic neck pathology, seen on an MRI (i.e, herniated disc, bulge, etc.) becomes symptomatic following acute trauma like a car accident.

In the context of a car accident, neck injury victims generally start with conservative care, such as chiropractic or physical therapy. In many cases, muscle and ligament injuries will respond well to a period of conservative care. Muscle and ligament-related pain are often labeled as soft tissue injuries.

It is extremely rare for a car accident victim to warrant immediate medical attention from a spinal surgeon, with the exception of a genuine spinal cord injury or a nerve injury (oftentimes a herniated disc directly impacting a nerve root). Surgery would be warranted if such neck trauma results in:

  • Severely limited grip strength or strength within the arm
  • A foot drop (i.e. dragging of the foot or inability to properly walk)
  • Cauda equina syndrome

Lower Back Pain Caused by Disc Injuries in a Car Accident

Discogenic pain refers to pain that is associated with the spinal discs. These round pieces of cartilage protect the bones that make up the spin by cushioning the bones from impact. They also allow for movement and stability, so when one or more spinal discs are damaged, the pain can be intense.

Discogenic pain occurs as the spinal discs gradually deteriorate over time or as a result of sudden acute trauma, such as in a car crash. It can also result from damage to the spinal disc. The majority of people experience this type of back pain in the lumbar (lower) spine area.

The following are the most common car accident injuries that result in lower back pain:

Lumbar Sprains Causes Lower Back Pain

Sprains in the lumbar region often result from excessive force impacting the back, like heavy lifting, a sports injury, or a motor vehicle crash. These traumas cause the ligaments, muscles, and tendons in the back to stretch too much. When this excessive stretching occurs, it is called a sprain (or strain).

These injuries often cannot be diagnosed by imaging and instead rely on doctor experience and patient consultation to determine the diagnosis.

Lower Back Pain Caused by Spinal Stenosis

The word "stenosis" in medicine means the abnormal narrowing of a body channel. Therefore, spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the bone channel that houses the spinal nerves and spinal cord. Natural aging most often causes spinal stenosis; however, it can result from direct trauma such as from a car accident.

In these cases, a ruptured disc or bone fragment invades the spinal canal space, applying pressure to the nerves or cord and causing pain.

Disc Herniation After a Car Wreck

A common injury to the cushion-like discs that separate your vertebrae is known as disc herniation. This occurs when the soft inner filling of the disc protrudes through the tougher outer encasing. This rupture by itself is often not painful. However, the protruding material often comes in contact with surrounding nerves, which can cause intense back pain.

Degenerative Spinal Disorders Following a Car Accident

Degenerative disc disorders encompass many different injuries and symptoms that all relate to the breaking down of the spine or its parts as the body ages. Degenerative spinal disorders can cause a number of injuries, conditions, or pains including:

  • Spinal osteoarthritis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Bulging discs
  • Herniated discs
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Degenerative scoliosis
  • Bone spurs
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Foraminal stenosis
  • Pinched nerves
  • Sciatica

Discogenic pain can present itself while a person is sitting or lying perfectly still, or when some form of activity irritates the affected area. This pain is often described as shooting and sharp. It can be localized to the damaged disc area, or it may radiate to one or both legs, the buttocks, the groin, or the feet.

This radiation is known as sciatica, and it can be extremely uncomfortable. Typically, bending over, sitting, or standing for short or long periods of time will exasperate the pain. Some people find relief by laying down flat or in a cradled position, while others find that walking or moving around will actually relieve the pain.

Diagnosing Lower Back Pain and Neck Pain After a Car Accident

The lumbar spine has five vertebrae with soft discs in between, and each disc has a tough outer ring surrounding a soft nucleus. When we're young, the discs consist predominantly of water, but as we age, they lose hydration and become more susceptible to cracking and fissures known as annular tears. These tears lead to inflammation and pain.

What's Causing Neck & Lower Back Pain after a Car Accident?

Because back pain has so many different causes, it's essential to have a skilled practitioner properly diagnose your problem. MRIs or tomography help identify signs of disc degeneration or damage. However, since some degenerated discs don't cause pain, skilled doctors will recognize the need for other tests, such as discography, to identify all problematic discs.

It is also essential the radiologist and spine surgeon (if and when necessary) take time to illustrate acute trauma (immediate injury from the accident) to the spine, as opposed to pain relating to degenerative disc disease.

Treating Lower Back or Neck Pain After a Car Accident Caused by Spinal Disc Injury

After your primary care physician diagnoses your injury, they can determine the best path forward for your recovery. You can try several treatments to help alleviate back or neck pain caused by a car accident that results in a spinal disc injury. What treatment you require depends on the severity of your injury.

The following are some of the treatments for back and neck pain caused by a spinal disc injury:

Physical Therapy to Heal Back and Neck Pain Caused by a Spinal Disc Injury

Physical therapists help discogenic pain sufferers by moving and manipulating the back and neck. Patients may be given exercises to do at home to lessen the pain and restore movement. This can include lumbar side bending, transverse plane motion, and flexion-rotation mobilization.

Physical therapy for neck and back pain can often abolish the patient's pain completely and restore a considerable range of motion.

Medication for Back and Neck Pain Following a Car Accident

Anti-inflammatory medications are usually another early step in treating back pain caused by disc injuries. Other drugs can help too, including:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Naproxen
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-epileptics

Non-Surgical Options for Spinal Disc Injuries

Some non-surgical treatments have proven successful in providing long-lasting relief and can be helpful in resolving disc pain. These can include:

Of course, if these treatments don't provide sufficient relief, surgery may be the only option left.

Spinal Surgery for a Spinal Disc Injury That Causes Back and Neck Pain

Surgery is often unnecessary, but if you're in debilitating pain for three months or more, you may need to consider it as an option. One type of minimally invasive spine surgery is intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET). This surgery cauterizes the fibers around the tear, which helps fuse and kill off painful nerve endings.

With the nerve endings dead, you won't be able to feel the discogenic pain anymore. The most common surgery for discogenic pain is spinal fusion. Be sure to research all your options and speak to your health care providers before choosing the best course of action for you.

Lower Back Pain Caused by Facet Injuries after a Car Accident

Facet joints are a lesser-known part of the spine but play an essential role in their function. These joints are surrounded by a thick, flexible membrane that secretes a viscous fluid that lubricates the joints and allows the spine to move easily. They help to support the body's weight and facilitate movement between each vertebra. Facet joints work in conjunction with the spinal discs to allow strong, controlled movement throughout the spine and entire body.

What's Causing Neck & Lower Back Pain after a Car Accident?

The facet joint's role is to prevent the spine from moving too much in one direction or the other. They are the reason the human body won't completely bend backward, forwards, or sideways. To properly perform this function, these joints have a large number of nerve endings, but it is this large concentration of nerves that causes this area to be particularly painful when damaged.

How Can a Facet Joint Injury Cause Back Pain?

The facet joints allow for movement in the spine and back. They can provide support, facilitate movement, and absorb compressive forces applied to the back and spine. Because of how integral they are for mobility and support of the back, any damage or trauma they incur can lead to severe back pain.

If you suffered a facet joint injury from a car accident impact, you might feel intense pain in the back when performing regular activities that require the facet joints to absorb pressure. Some of these activities can include walking, running, bending down, exercising, driving a car, etc.

Back pain from a facet joint injury can also originate from a traumatic condition caused by the car accident impact, such as spinal osteoarthritis, disc degeneration, and facet dislocation.

Symptoms of a Facet Joint Injury

Frequent symptoms correlating to facet joint pain consist of muscle spasms, which may force the spine out of alignment and cause back and neck pain. For example, a patient may experience a muscle spasm while simply bending over to pick up an item; this may freeze the joint as it slips out of place. When facet joints freeze, it typically occurs abruptly and without notice.

Facet joint injury symptoms vary greatly and are often confused with spinal disc issues. Facet locking syndrome can create a sudden, painful attack, but it can be resolved by releasing the frozen joints and returning the facets to normal function.

Facet joint pain may also arise from aggravation or nerve irritation of the joint. When this happens, the nearby muscles spasm in an effort to help protect the area from further damage by preventing movement.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Facet Joint Injuries

Neck & Lower Back Pain after a Car Accident

Fortunately, facet joint injuries can be seen on standard x-rays. A CT scan may be necessary to see more details of the spinal structures.

Having a CT scan can also help rule out other possible issues with the facets. To see more clearly, your physician may find it beneficial to use an injection dye during an x-ray. This is called a facet joint block.

The dye is used along with a local anesthetic and cortisone that light up the areas of concern. This allows the radiologist to see very detailed information concerning the injured area. If these methods are insufficient, an MRI scan may also diagnose facet joint issues.

Treating Facet Joint Pain Caused by Car Accident Back Pain

A common treatment for facet joint pain is the implementation of a simple cold or hot compress, but you must always check with your physician before starting any treatment. The typical order is 15 minutes of either hot or cold therapy every 2-3 hours, depending on your physician's recommendation. NSAIDs (also known as anti-inflammatory) like ibuprofen can be helpful as well since they reduce swelling in the affected area.

If possible, attempt to move slowly. Don't push yourself, and listen to your body. If you are in pain, stop what you are doing. If the pain persists, sometimes a therapeutic massage can help relieve the spasm, but be sure to let the therapist know your issue before the massage begins. 

Chiropractic Care to Treat a Facet Joint Injury

Another option is to seek out a qualified chiropractor for help. Be sure they are qualified by researching the therapist before making an appointment. Also, be sure to give detailed information about what happened, how it happened, and where the pain occurs.

Exercise can also improve spasms and stiffness. However, you must speak to a medical professional first. By exercising without knowing the extent of your injury, you may actually worsen the pain.

Neck & Lower Back Pain after a Car Accident

Cervical Spine Injuries Caused by Car Accident Trauma

The cervical spine is the top portion of the spine, which comprises of eight vertebrae from C1 to C8. Trauma from a car accident can cause damage to the vertebrae in the neck, lead to a cervical spine injury, and result in car accident neck pain.

The severity of a cervical spine injury depends on what vertebrae were affected by the trauma. Cervical spine injuries fall into two categories:

  • High-cervical injuries: The high-cervical vertebrae include C1 through C4. C1 and C2 vertebrae are located at the base of the skull. Due to their proximity to the skull and the brain, impact to these vertebrae can cause debilitating effects, including loss of motor skills, paralysis, or an inability to breathe. Trauma affecting these vertebrae is rare, but damage can result in severe neck and back pain.
  • Low-cervical injuries: The vertebrae from C5 to C8 comprise the low-cervical vertebrae. On top of causing neck and back pain, damage to these vertebrae can result in a lack of bladder control, inability to raise arms or bend elbows, and paralysis to the hands and wrist. Unlike high-cervical injuries, someone suffering from a low-cervical injury has a greater chance of retaining sensory functions.

Typical Care for Cervical Spine Injuries

An accident victim with a cervical spine injury will generally attempt interventional pain management alongside conservative care. Many accident victims with neck symptoms will undergo epidural steroid injections of the cervical spine in an effort to determine whether temporary episodic relief can be obtained. If so, the patient may be a candidate for successful minimally invasive spine surgery.

Interventional pain management (pain management via procedures, not medications) is often more diagnostic than therapeutic. The pain management specialist (generally an anesthesiologist or physiatrist) will correlate the clinical presentation with the diagnostic results via MRI findings and determine the appropriate course of care. The insurance company will generally view the medical documentation from an interventional pain management physician and place a higher value on such as opposed to merely conservative care.

In other words, the insurance carrier will note that conservative care failed to alleviate the individual's pain following a car accident and that the victim required more provocative care.

How Is Back Pain Treated After a Car Accident?

Treatment for low back pain generally depends on whether the pain is minor (acute) or severe (chronic). The following treatments are typically ordered from most acute, or non-invasive, to most serious, ending with surgery. Any doctor will tell you that you should only consider surgery if conditions are worsening or if corrective procedures will cure or greatly relieve your pain.

Types of treatments for lower back pain after an accident include:

  • Hot or cold packs
  • Activity
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications
    • Analgesic medications (such as over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen, aspirin, or prescription opioids, like oxycodone and morphine)
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium)
    • Anticonvulsants (primarily used to treat seizures but may help with radiculopathy)
    • Counter-irritants (Bengay, Icy Hot)
  • Spinal manipulation (chiropractic care)
  • Nerve block therapies (injections of local anesthetics, steroids)
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Surgery

Surgery as Treatment for Lower Back Pain

When the above therapies quit working, or when it is clear that surgery is necessary to improve an accident victim's quality of life, you could get surgery to relieve neck and lower back pain caused by car accidents. Surgery is often risky for patients, but the long-term relief can outweigh the possible negative outcomes. Back pain and neck pain reduce one's enjoyment and capacity to the point where they welcome surgery.

As long the surgery is well-suited to the patient's condition, it is often successful in relieving their pain. Surgical options for neck and back pain include:

Kyphoplasty as a Surgical Treatment for a Spine Injury

Another procedure common to thoracic spine surgery is kyphoplasty. Kyphoplasty is a surgical procedure to treat a compression fracture of the vertebrae (often the thoracic spine).

this procedure can restore the vertebra's height and reduce the pain in the spine following a car accident. This is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure where a balloon inflates to restore the proper height of the vertebrae. The doctor then injects bone cement to keep the vertebrae in place.

What Damages Can You Pursue Following a Car Accident?

Back and neck injuries can inflict much more than just physical pain. These injuries have the potential to cause damages that can affect not just your financial stability but also you quality of life as well.

Damages are typically split into two major categories:

  • Economic damages: These are damages provided to car accident victims to compensate for financial losses. Economic damages are tangible and include anything you needed to pay for or any money you lost due to the car accident injuries. This can include medical expenses, lost wages, or property damage.
  • Non-economic damages: Non-economic damages, otherwise known as pain and suffering damages, encompass the non-tangible damages associated with the car accident. This refers to how your life changes following the accident and how you suffered outside of financially. Some non-economic damages you can pursue compensation for include loss of enjoyment of life, psychological injuries, and loss of consortium.

You can pursue both economic and non-economic damages associated with your back and neck pain. For example, the medical bills associated with your treatment are considered economic damages, while the physical pain and mental anguish you endure due to back and neck injuries are considered non-economic damages.

The following are some common examples of damages you can pursue in a car accident claim:

Dealing with Insurance Adjusters Following a Car Accident

If you suffer from neck and back pain following a car accident, you can pursue compensation from the at-fault party if they behaved negligently behind the wheel. You could file a car accident claim with the at-fault party's insurance company.

The insurance company will not just hand you money to cover your damages. They will research the accident by sending out an insurance adjuster to determine if they need to provide you with compensation. The insurance adjuster's job is to look into the accident and attempt to limit the potential settlement the insurance company has to pay.

An insurance company will try to find information that could absolve the at-fault party and insurance company of liability. This information can include pre-existing medical conditions, targeting subjective damages you seek, and attempting to get you to admit liability for the accident.

How Insurance Adjusters Can Affect a Whiplash Injury Claim

Whiplash accident cases are some of the most difficult to pursue. Insurance adjusters and their experts typically label whiplash as a simple sprain or strain injury. However,  non-surgical whiplash is often worse than your typical disc injury that requires surgery.

Insurance carriers go into these cases with the goal of minimizing the value of each claim. And many lawyers fail to spend the money necessary to hire the best experts and aggressively pursue whiplash claims for their clients.

As a Florida whiplash injury law firm, Dolman Law Group has handled thousands of whiplash claims over the past decade. We take these cases very seriously and empathize with how these injuries impact our clients. We aggressively pursue every last case, which sets us apart from the settlement mills that concern themselves more with signing up a high volume of clients than with litigating those cases to a satisfying conclusion that gets maximum compensation for their clients.

Why Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Many people see personal injury lawyers as an expensive tool that is overkill for their back or neck injury cases. Because of the cost, some will attempt to handle their own personal injury claims. More often than not, this is a huge mistake. An attorney can help car accident victims pursue compensation for damages resulting from the long-term effects they can suffer after a car accident.

Even though they may act like they are on your side, insurance companies do not have your best interest at heart. Their interest is in keeping money out of your hands and in their pockets – that's how they stay profitable. When you try to handle a car accident case on your own, you are at an immense disadvantage.

This is because the insurance company has a number of more experienced, equipped, and educated professionals than the average person. The insurance company often gets its way when a person does not have their own legal representation to combat attempts to limit compensation. Handling an auto accident claim on your own can cause mistakes that end up costing you large chunks of a potential settlement, or even possibly your chance at receiving any compensation at all.

When you hire an experienced personal injury attorney, you level the playing field and take the fight to the insurance company. If you are wondering when to hire a car accident lawyer, sooner is always better than later. Getting legal assistance early prevents costly mistakes and gives your lawyer more time to build as effective a case as possible to maximize potential compensation. 

Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Car Accident Claim.

Personal Injury Attorney
Matthew Dolman, Car Accident Lawyer

Back, neck, and spinal cord injury cases are unique and require the retention of a team of experts. These experts can illustrate how the injuries will impact the victim's quality of life, the costs of future medical bills, and any necessary home alterations.

These types of injury cases are, by nature, very expensive, and the law firm must also have the necessary financial resources to handle the case properly. It is vital that the car accident lawyer you hire is well versed in handling such cases and has the resources necessary to help you pursue compensation.

At Dolman Law Group, our car accident attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in assisting victims with neck and back injuries following a car accident. We work tirelessly for our auto accident victims to ensure they receive the proper medical attention for their injuries, as well as the proper recovery to offset the damages caused by a negligent party. Our personal injury lawyers have vast experience handling back, head, and neck injuries that proves invaluable to clients when countering the tactics and defenses employed by the insurance companies.

The insurance carrier will often argue that a car accident-related medical issue is related to degenerative disc disease and that the claimant would have had the same injury due to the degeneration of the spine that happens as we get older. Our car accident lawyers can help combat this defense and others to prove the at-fault party caused the accident through negligent behavior. This is why hiring the best spine injury lawyer for your case is essential to recovering maximum compensation.

Contact us today for a free consultation to get a feel for how our experienced car accident lawyers can help you pursue compensation. Call us at 833-55-CRASH or leave us a message on our online contact page.


*The above information was reviewed by either Attorney Matthew Dolman or another injury lawyer at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, P.A., which has a combined 100+ years of experience practicing Florida personal injury law. Matthew Dolman himself has been practicing personal injury law in Clearwater and St. Petersburg for the last seventeen (17) years. The information provided comes from extensive research and years of experience trying legal cases in courtrooms throughout Florida.

Stanley Gipe is a Florida Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer, which means that per the Florida Bar, he is authorized to call himself an expert in the field of trial law. Our firm has now handled in excess of 7,500 individual personal injury cases. Further, we have handled thousands of claims and lawsuits involving a myriad of different spine injuries.

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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