When another vehicle strikes yours, it can cause your head and neck to snap back and forth, especially if the collision happens at the rear of your vehicle. This quick and often violent involuntary movement can cause several types of injuries to your neck.
According to Transportation Safety and Environment, traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of all neck injuries. While some are mild, others are severe enough to be potentially life-threatening and/or cause significant permanent disabilities. Neck injuries from car accidents typically fall into one of three categories.
Spinal cord injuries
The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system that extends from the brain, through the neck, all the way down the back. The section of the spinal cord in the neck is the cervical spine. Car accidents are the second-leading cause of spinal cord injury.
Damage to the spinal cord from a car accident can result in paralysis of the body below the level of injury that is often permanent. When the damage occurs at the neck, this could result in quadriplegia, i.e., paralysis of all four limbs, as well as heart or lung dysfunction.
The spinal column consists of bones called vertebrae. There are seven vertebrae in the neck, and the impact of a car accident can cause them to break or dislocate, i.e., move out of their proper position. Bone injuries of the neck are potentially serious because of the risk of damage to your spinal cord.
Soft tissue injuries
Soft tissue injuries of the neck, also referred to as whiplash, can involve muscles, nerves, disks and ligaments, as well as the arteries of your neck. Approximately half of all whiplash patients recover completely within a few weeks of the accident. However, symptoms of dizziness, headache or forgetfulness can persist longer, becoming a whiplash-associated disorder.