Common Car accident injuries

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Car accident injuries affect various parts of the body. Head, neck and back injuries are certainly the most common, but car accidents also frequently affect internal organs, and upper and lower limbs. The following are some of the most common injuries, symptoms and treatment for car accident injuries:

Head & Neck injuries

Brain injuries are more common in side impact car accidents than in rearend auto accidents. Brain damage in a car accident is often related to the quick acceleration and deceleration of the brain, which causes injury to the point of impact and its opposite point or countercoup. Diagnosis of a brain injury may be difficult. Concussions are associated with traumatic brain injury as are seizures, headaches, dizziness, lack of concentration, memory loss, depression or anxiety. CT scans and MRI scans are often used to diagnosis brain injury.

Neck injuries vary from whiplash, one of the most common and annoying injuries caused by car accidents, to disk injuries. Whiplash is an injury frequently associated with rear-end impacts. Whiplash injures the soft tissues made up of nerves, ligaments and muscles. It causes neck pain and limitation of neck and head movement effecting rotation and peripheral vision. It may be temporary or permanent and can effect all aspects of life. If whiplash lasts for more than a few days after a car accident physicians will prescribe medications and often refer patients to physical therapists or chiropractors for rehabilitative therapy.

Temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) injuryThis is an injury to the joint and ligaments that allow the jaw to move. Similar to whiplash, the TMJ joint is injured in the acceleration and deceleration of a car accident. This may occur with direct or indirect injury to the jaw and effects chewing, eating and speech.

Intervertebral discs make up the spine. The disks lie between each bone (vertebrae) in the spine and form joints giving spines flexibility. Discs are made up of an outer skin called an annulus that surrounds the inner nucleus, a jelly like substance. If the annulus is torn, a disc may herniate and need surgery. Disks in the neck and spine may bulge, slip or rupture, hence the phrases bulging disc, slipped disc, and ruptured disc. CT scans and MRI scans are often used to diagnosis disc injuries and because such tests are expensive doctors will not order them immediately after a car accident. It frequently occurs where a disk injury or herniated disc is not diagnosed until months after a car accident.

In a Car Accident?


What is No-Fault insurance?

"No-fault" insurance refers to medical coverage, which you are required by state law to carry on your automobile insurance. Not all states have "no-fault" statutes, though almost all insurance companies sell some type of medical coverage for their auto policies. Basically, if you have an accident, regardless of whether or not you are at-fault, your own auto insurance must pay a portion of your medical bills. The "no-fault" part comes from the fact that even though someone, say, plowed into the rear of your car while you were stopped at a red light, your own carrier must pick up the ambulance, hospital, rehabilitation, etc.

Some states allow "no-fault" insurance carriers to go after the at-fault party, but this varies too much to discuss here and it's also relatively rare. Typically it's based on the amount of the medical bills or the weight of the at-fault party's vehicle. Many people who live in "no-fault" states often believe they can prohibit their carrier from paying their bills (with the assumption that they don't want any payments made under their policy in case their rates go up).

This isn't the case. Much like worker's comp, "no-fault" medical coverage is primary, and the first-party insurance carrier must pay it. Finally, many people who know they live in a "no-fault" state often believe this has something to do with physical damage to a vehicle and liability. That's not true. "No-fault" relates only to the medical coverage. If someone hits your vehicle, and he's at-fault, he is still legally liable to pay for the damages to your vehicle.

Back Injuries

Intervertebral disks in the neck, cervical discs, are not the only discs injured in car accidents. Thoracic, mid-back, disks and lumbar, lower back, disks may also be injured in car accidents. Compression fractures may be caused in such accidents causing permanent disability. Also, herniations or bulges may cause spinal cord compression. Symptoms of spinal injuries include arm and/or leg weakness, paralysis, difficulty breathing, numbness, tingling, and abnormal bowel or bladder control. Disc injuries causing those symptoms may require surgery to remove disc material or spinal fusion.

In the same way whiplash injures soft tissues of the neck, the back nerves, ligaments and muscles may be traumatized by a car accident causing pain and inflammation. Prescriptive medications are often used initially but for continuing pain and inflammation, patients are sent to physical therapists or chiropractors for rehabilitative therapy. Such therapy generally includes infrared heat, hot packs, paraffin bath, hydrotherapy, diathermy, cold packs, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, muscle strengthening, traction, massage, or acupuncture. Another common treatment is steroid injection. 

Internal Organ injury

Internal injuries from a car accident include injuries to bowels, kidneys, the spleen, liver, lungs, heart or aorta. Fractured ribs are quite common and may also puncture lungs and other internal organs. Torn spleens are also a frequent injury and may require extensive hospitalization.

Upper limbs

Hands, forearms, arms, shoulders, wrists and fingers are often injured in car accidents as well. Fractures are typical and treatment generally involves splints and casts. Occasionally, such injuries will require surgery in addition to splinting and casting. Therapy may also be required for increasing reduced strength and range of motion.

Rotator cuff injuries are frequently caused by car accidents. MRI scans are often used to diagnosis rotator cuff tears but since these tests are costly doctors will typically not order them immediately after a car accident and will wait for completion of physical therapy before ordering an MRI. Severe shoulder injuries will require shoulder reconstruction.

Lower limbs

Hips, legs, knees, heels, ankles, and feet are also commonly damaged in car accidents. Achilles tendon injuries, ankle sprains, collateral ligament injuries and stress fractures are typical. Fractures of the pelvis, femur, patella, tibia, and ankle may require casting or surgery. For serious hip and knee injuries, total hip replacements or total knee arthroplasty may be necessary after a car accident.

Likely Injury Symptoms:

• Low back pain
• Neck pain
• Hand and wrist pain
• Ankle and foot pain
• Joint pain and stiffness
• Dizziness
• Difficulty breathing or rib pain
• Muscle spasms
• Shoulder pain
• Numbness or tingling sensation in muscles, joints and ligaments.


• Cervical Radiculopathy - A herniated (slipped) disk
• Cervical Spinal Stenosis
• Compression Fractures
• Degenerative Disc Disease
• Degenerative Disorders of Cervical and Lumbar Spine
• Disc Herniation's (Cervical /Lumbar / Thoracic)
• Failed Back
• Fractures
• Inflammatory Conditions
• Whiplash
• Neck and Arm Pain (Herniated Disc / Stenosis)
• Radiculopathy (Cervical / Lumbar)
• Rheumatoid Arthritis of Cervical Spine
• Spinal Stenosis (Cervical / Lumbar)
• Spondylolysis / Spondylolisthesis
• Sciatic nerve tumor or injury

Physical medicine & rehabilitation services and treatment options:

Myofascial Release

Myofascial Release is a technique used to stretch fascia. Fascia is the interwoven connective tissue that surrounds our muscles and organs, and when we experience physical trauma, scarring or inflammation, the fascia may become tight and restricted causing pain and restriction of motion. This hands-on therapeutic stretching technique helps to reduce pain and restore motion by releasing restriction of the injured fascia and restore its structure.


Cold packs are applied to the area of pain and inflammation where cold is transferred to the patient's skin, muscle and tissue which reduces the inflammation and decreases pain and swelling.

Hot Packs

Moist heat packs are used to relax tight muscles causing tissues to relax, which decreases pain caused by muscle tension or spasm, and allows for more effective stretching and mobilization.


Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves that penetrate heat into human tissue deeper than any other heat modality. This deep heat promotes muscle relaxation and circulation while helping to relieve inflammation, muscle spasm and pain.

Electrical Stimulation

Electrical stimulation uses an electrical current to cause a single muscle or group of muscles to contract which helps relax or strengthen the affected muscle and promotes blood supply to the area which assists in healing.


Therapeutic spinal traction uses manual or mechanical tension created by a gentle pulling force to stretch and mobilize the spine to help increase the space between vertebrae and relieve nerve compression, pain and spasm.

Paraffin Bath

Paraffin is a hot wax, used primarily in hand therapy, that provides soothing moist heat to warm joints, tissue and skin. Paraffin is ideal for the treatment of patients suffering from pain associated with arthritis, strains, sprains, joint stiffness, and it is also used to increase range of motion.

Therapeutic Exercise

Therapeutic Exercise including: Active Range of Motion (AROM), Active Assistive Range of Motion (A/AROM ), Passive Range of Motion (PROM), Static Stretching, Isometrics/Isotonics, Regressive Resistant Exercises (RRE's), Gait & Balance Exercises.

Trigger Point Injections

Trigger Point Injection (TPI) is used to treat painful areas of muscle. When muscles do not relax, they tighten or knot causing spasm. These knots/spasms of muscle are called a trigger point, which may irritate the surrounding nerves causing pain to be felt in another part of the body - also known as referred pain. Using a small needle, a local anesthetic is injected into the trigger point, which inactivates the trigger point and alleviates the pain.

Facet Joint Injections

Facet joints, which are located at the back of the spine, provide stability to the spine and help guide motion. An anesthetic is injected into the facet joint, which numbs the joint and reduces inflammation and/or swelling of the tissue in the joint space.


Prolotherapy, which is also known as non-surgical ligament/tendon reconstruction, is a treatment used for many different types of musculoskeletal pain. When tendon or ligament is stretched, due to a trauma or overuse, it becomes pain sensitive. This type of injection stimulates the tissue to repair itself tightening the stretched ligament or tendon making it stronger.

Epidural Steroid Injections

Epidural Steroid Injection (ESI) is a common nonsurgical procedure used to treat pain caused by spinal nerve irritation. The ESI delivers a long-lasting steroid medication and a local anesthetic to the epidural space reducing inflammation or swelling of the nerves.

Electrodiagnostic Studies (EMG and NCS)

Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) are used to study diseases of nerves and muscles by recording the electrical activity of the nerves and muscles, which help physicians arrive at a diagnosis. There are two parts to these studies. Nerve conduction studies will measure the health of the nerve by applying small electrical impulses to the nerves, measuring the speed and intensity of electrical signals that travel along those nerves. During the EMG, a small, thin needle is inserted into specific muscles, one at a time, and visual and auditory information is collected through the electrical signals that travel from the needle to the EMG machine. This test usually takes 30-60 minutes and normal activities can resume after the test.