What Is Causing Post-Accident Neck and Back Pain?

Oct 19, 2022

Car accident injuriesback pain are an unfortunate reality we have to face as drivers. A good rule of thumb is if your car has damage, you have damage. Accidents can seem overwhelming both in the moment and in the days or even months afterward. As expert orthopedic physicians who see car accident injuries daily, AICA Orthopedics in Tucker is knowledgeable and ready to tackle any injury and associated pain after an accident.

One of the most common complaints AICA Orthopedics sees following a car accident is neck pain and back pain. Pain in the neck or back can present together or even separately, depending on the injury. While neck and back pain are common outcomes of car accidents, they don’t have to consume your life post-accident. At AICA Orthopedics our comprehensive approach and expertise will help you resume a normal, pain-free life!

Why do car accidents cause neck and back pain?

Car accidents frequently cause neck and back pain because of the major physical forces exerted on your body in an accident, no matter how mild. The most common injury in a car accident is whiplash, caused by abrupt deceleration and whipping back of your head.

Even with low-speed accidents, cars are, on average, 4000 pounds and made of immovable materials when compared to the human body. Extreme force is just not something humans tolerate well. If you are involved in a car accident, resulting damage to the back and neck can result in short-term injuries but also long-term injuries.

Anatomy of the Neck and Back

About Your Spine

Cervical SpineBefore you can understand back and neck injuries and the resulting pain, you should first have an idea of how your back and neck are put together. The spine is made of four sections and several key components.

Cervical Spine

The cervical spine is the very top portion of the spine. It is made up of seven vertebrae and runs from the base of your skull, down your neck, and stops at approximately shoulder height. The main job of the cervical spine is to help your head and neck articulate and protect the spinal cord.

Thoracic Spine

This middle portion of the spine consists of 12 vertebrae stacked on top of each other. The thoracic spine anchors the rib cage, providing stability to the neck and torso. Like the cervical spine, the thoracic spine protects the spinal cord as it passes through the center of each vertebra.

Lumbar Spine

The lumbar spine is also called the low back. It consists of five vertebrae that are very durable. The lumbar spine has to be durable and strong as it supports the bulk of the upper body, protects the spinal cord, and houses the nerves that are responsible for leg movements. Despite this durability, the lumbar is highly susceptible to pain because of its heavy workload.

Sacral Spine

Five segments make up the sacral spine. They form a triangular shape between the lumbar and coccyx. If you experience pain in the sacrum, it is typically caused by irritation to the sacroiliac joint.

Other Anatomical Aspects of the Back and Neck

Spinal Discs

These shock absorbers are between each vertebra in the spine. They are cartilaginous, and the flexibility allows for movement of the spine.


Vertebrae are the individual bony stacking blocks of the spine. These bones are stacked on top of each other with vertebral discs in between. The center of the vertebral bodies each has a round hole for the spinal cord to pass through.

Spinal Cord

One of the most accurate descriptors of the spinal cord is when it is described as an expressway. The electric pulses that control everything from voluntary to involuntary bodily functions leave the brain and move through the spinal cord and from there branch off into peripheral nerves. The spinal cord runs through the cervical and thoracic spine but not the lumbar spine. Because of this pain associated with injury to the lumbar spine does not usually consist of nerve pain.


The coccyx is more commonly called the tailbone and is located at the very base of the spine. Despite its singular-sounding name, the coccyx is composed of four fused vertebrae. The tailbone’s primary function is as a shock absorber.


In addition to your spinal column, there are over 30 muscles that allow the back and neck to support the spine and torso, and to help you move about. Over 35 muscles support and flex the back and neck. Some of the main muscles of the back and neck are:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Levator scapulae
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Spinalis Cervicis and Capitis
  • Longissimus Thoracic

What injuries may be causing your post-accident neck and back pain?

Back and neck injuries are varied and can result in different levels of pain as well as different types of pain. We’ve divided the potential injuries into four broad categories below.

Discogenic Injuries

A discogenic injury is any injury to the back or neck involving the discs, or padding, between the vertebrae. As mentioned previously, spinal discs are shock absorbers to protect the vertebrae, but with sufficient force can sustain damage.

Herniated Disc

Also known as a ‘slipped disc’ or ‘bulging disc,’ a herniated disc occurs when the spinal disc weakens and the cartilaginous material pops out of the firmer casing of the disc. A mild herniation can often be corrected with rest and physical therapy, but if left untreated, a herniated disc can worsen and become more painful and debilitating. With a severe disc herniation, the disc may become fully dislodged from between vertebrae or break down completely.

Disc herniations in the cervical and thoracic portion of the spin can cause nerve impingement resulting in tingling and even pain. Because the lumbar portion of the spine supports so much of the body, disc herniations there can result in a lack of mobility, flexibility, and pain with movement.

Spinal Stenosis

The narrowing of the canal in which the spinal cord resides is known as spinal stenosis. This can pinch the nerves and cause back pain. Spinal stenosis is usually thought of as a chronic back condition, but it can also be a result of acute trauma and swelling after a car accident.

Neck and Back Pain from Soft Tissue Injuries

Soft tissue injuries are the most common injuries seen in car accidents as they can occur in even the lowest speed accidents.

Lumbar Sprain

A sprain occurs when muscles and ligaments are overstretched. Car accidents result in your body being tossed around, even restrained, and pulled into unnatural positions. This can overtax the muscles of your back, most commonly the lumbar, resulting in pain, weakness, and stiffness.


Whiplash is probably the most well-known injury resulting from car accidents. While whiplash isn’t a specific diagnosis but rather a broad term for a group of symptoms, it can be severe and very painful. Whiplash is a deceleration injury. Deceleration injuries happen when your body, spine, and muscles come to an abrupt stop when it has been traveling quickly. This abrupt stop forces the head forward and snaps it back, injuring the neck and upper back.

How are soft tissue injuries treated?

Soft tissue injuries are typically treated conservatively. Your orthopedic doctor may recommend rest, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, and gentle stretching until the pain resolves. If the associated pain is persistent and you are struggling with mobility, you may benefit from physical therapy or a visit with one of AICA Orthopedic Tucker’s chiropractors.

Facet Joint Injuries

The facet joint is part of the spine. Each vertebra has a round front and two winglike facets in the back. Where these facets join with the other vertebrae is called a facet joint. This joint helps the spine move and bend while maintaining its structural integrity. Facets are lined with cartilage and synovial fluid, making them synovial joints and allowing for smooth gliding. The forces exerted on your body during a car accident can result in facet joints becoming misaligned or irritated. This irritation can result in pain, muscle spasms, discomfort, and other symptoms.

How are facet joint injuries treated?

Facet joint injuries can be treated with rest as well as temperature therapy. If the injury to the joint is more severe, you may need physical therapy or possibly surgery.

What is late-onset back and neck pain?

An important factor to remember after a car accident is that many symptoms of back and neck pain can appear hours or even days after. Any time you are in an accident, you should seek an evaluation by a medical professional. AICA Orthopedics is ready to perform a complete evaluation and follow you after to make sure any late-onset symptoms can be addressed quickly.

Delayed back and neck pain can happen for a variety of reasons. One of the big issues is the natural adrenaline rush you will experience following a high-stress event like a car accident. Once your body has the time to relax and the adrenaline fades you may find you have more pain, tenderness, or swelling that was masked by the adrenaline.

Another cause of delayed pain is the physical process of an injury. Swelling takes time to build up, bruising may not appear for hours, and muscles do not immediately stiffen following stress.

Delayed symptoms of neck and back injuries:

  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain, swelling, or bruising
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling or numbness in your hands, feet, legs, or arms. Especially if it is new.
  • Vision or hearing disturbances
  • Unexplained panic or distress

How do you diagnose post-accident neck and back pain?

If you have suffered severe car accident injuries, you will most likely be transported to an emergency center. They are equipped to handle trauma events and the unstable nature of some auto accident injuries. If your injuries are less severe or have delayed onset, it is important to have a complete evaluation done by an orthopedic doctor.

At AICA Orthopedics in Tucker, we have state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging equipment to help our doctors gain a full picture of your injuries.


Medical imaging is used to see the skeletal aspects of the body. An x-ray will show any fractures or foreign bodies that you may have.

CT Scan

A highly detailed scan of the soft tissues and skeletal structures of the body. A CT is often used in trauma due to its speed and high resolution. You can get a good idea of the condition of the spine and disc structures.


Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is used to see soft tissues, nerves, and blood vessels. If our doctors suspect a spinal injury, an MRI will be ordered to get a good view of the structures involved.


An EMG, or electromyography, is a diagnostic procedure that tests the muscles and nerves. An EMG can determine if the nerves are damaged and if they are working correctly.

How is post-accident neck and back pain treated?


If your injuries and symptoms are not severe, your doctor may choose to treat any swelling, pain, or discomfort with medications, rest, and temperature therapy. Common medications are:

  • Acetaminophen – for pain
  • Ibuprofen – for pain and swelling
  • Antidepressants – for stress following the accidents
  • Flexeril – muscle relaxer

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often the first line of treatment following discogenic injuries. In combination with pain relief medication, physical therapy is an excellent tool to improve strength and flexibility. Using a range of rehabilitation techniques including strength training, stretching, heat therapy, water therapy, and injury-specific exercises, your physical therapist’s goal is to relieve pain and prevent further injury.

Chiropractic Treatment

Chiropractors are trained in gentle manipulations, massage therapy, and other gentle methods of relieving pain and discomfort. AICA Orthopedics has chiropractors on staff to help relieve any stiffness and pain you may be experiencing in your back and neck.

Interventional Spine Treatment

Interventional treatments are a popular treatment modality with orthopedic doctors. They are non-surgical and minimally invasive, and they resolve 90% of pain associated with these injuries. Some treatments include epidurals, analgesics injected via injections, and even electrothermal therapy.


Surgery is typically a last resort when it comes to back and neck pain. However, if the pain is not resolved by more conservative treatments, it may be an option you and your AICA Orthopedics team can discuss.

Contact AICA Tucker Today

Contact AICA Tucker TodayIf you are involved in a car accident, promptly seeking medical intervention is vital to the healing process. Seeking evaluation and treatment quickly will help your doctors determine the presence and severity of the injuries causing your back and neck pain.

At AICA Orthopedics in Tucker, we are experts in treating car accident injuries, and we can get you on the path to feeling better. Our orthopedic doctors will collaborate with our physical therapists and chiropractors to develop a treatment plan based on the results of all testing. We can perform all diagnostic testing in-house! Early medical intervention leads to faster healing times, so please contact AICA Orthopedics in Tucker today!


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