All About Back and Neck Injuries from Rear-end Collisions

In 2018, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported nearly half a million car accidents involving over 693,000 drivers. Research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 29% of crashes are rear-end collisions. Rear-end collisions happen more frequently than any other type of crash. 

Usually, a rear-end collision involves the vehicle in front slowing down or stopping, perhaps because of an upcoming turn or traffic jam. However, it is typically the driver of the following vehicle being distracted that leads to a crash. Because the following driver is distracted, they do not notice the leading vehicle slowing. 

Familiar distracted behaviors that lead to rear-end collisions include: 

  • Talking on a cell phone
  • Eating or drinking
  • Checking mirrors
  • Animals
  • Reaching for an object
  • Adjusting the radio; and
  • Daydreaming.

While using a cellphone for GPS or texting is distracting, the NHTSA research showed that those types of behaviors correlated with near-misses rather than rear-end collisions. The dangers of distracted driving can be made worse by tailgating, or following too closely. 

Back and Neck Injuries Caused by Rear-End Collisions

Research shows that traffic accidents are the main cause of neck injuries and the most common type of traffic accident is a rear-end collision. As a result, rear-end collisions are the most common cause of neck injuries. 

Neck injuries resulting from vehicle accidents include:

Overall, 90% of injuries in rear-end crashes are neck injuries. 

Whiplash from Rear-End Collisions

Data from traffic accidents in Germany show more than 90% of whiplash injuries occur from rear-end crashes at speeds of less than 15 miles per hour. 

Whiplash injuries could be: 

  • Broken, swollen, or inflamed skin
  • Sore, tense, or tight muscles
  • Broken or inflamed blood vessels
  • Impinged nerves, and
  • Torn, ruptured, or sprained ligaments.

Some symptoms of whiplash include headaches, dizziness, frequent forgetting, and emotional or psychological distress.

According to the Mayo Clinic, other, more severe symptoms of whiplash include: 

  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears, and
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms. 

You should always see a doctor immediately if you have any neck pain

Fractures from Rear-End Collisions

Neck fractures, also called cervical fractures, are broken vertebrae. The most serious neck fractures are accompanied by a cervical dislocation, which can lead to spinal instability. When there is a serious dislocation, the vertebral bone moves fully forward and sticks, causing ligament rupture. 

The severity and type of neck fracture depend on the angle of the force during the impact of the collision. The direction of the force impacts how the cervical vertebra is injured. 

People who are more likely to sustain a neck fracture include: 

  • Elderly people with osteoporosis
  • Pedestrians or vehicle occupants who use their head to “block” the impact; and 
  • children.

Men are more likely to suffer a neck fracture than women. 

Rear-end collisions can lead to both neck and back fractures. Other lower back injuries can result from rear-end collisions, including:

In addition, a rear-end collision can cause cervical spinal cord injuries in the back or neck area.

Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries As a Result of Rear-End Collisions

When a fracture, dislocation, or other neck or back injury damages the spinal cord, the damage can be disabling or fatal. Spinal cord injury (SCI) involves traumatic, immediate damage to the spinal nerves. Potential complications from SCI include: 

  • Immediate risk of respiratory and cardiac failure
  • Temporary or permanent paralysis; and
  • Bladder and bowel dysfunction.

Unfortunately, when a person sustains a spinal cord injury, they may suffer a lifelong disability or partial paralysis from the point of injury downward.

Diagnosis and Treatment Following Rear-End Collisions

Many injuries caused by rear-end collisions do not show up right away. It is important to seek diagnosis and treatment promptly after a rear-end collision. This is because information about your condition collected at the first medical visit after the collision can be important in establishing the cause and severity of injuries.