Cars are an indispensable part of daily life, taking us to and from work, school, and entertainment. But hurling down the freeway at 65 miles per hour is dangerous, and millions of people sustain car accident injuries every year.

Car crashes are especially perilous when they happen at high speeds, sometimes leaving people with car accident injuries including whiplash, back pain, or broken bones.

And new research shows car accident victims are more likely to develop chronic pain, defined as pain lasting for longer than three months, according to a study published in Arthritis Care and Research. Researchers found that 43% of study subjects with chronic pain had been involved in a traumatic event, like a motor vehicle accident.

The study aimed to investigate the claim frequently made by chronic pain patients that their pain was precipitated by an event like a car accident. Researchers said the results supported that idea, but said additional studies are needed to identify specific causes.

Prompt treatment for car accident injuries is important to minimize potential for chronic pain.

Fortunately, a variety of treatments are available to help people manage car accident-related pain and resume normal life activities. Seeking medical attention promptly increases the likelihood of successful treatment.

How common are car accidents?

Motor vehicle accidents are frighteningly common. Nationally, more than 1.3 million people were injured in car crashes in 2012, according to the National Highway Safety Administration, with a rate of 1,045 injuries per 100,000 registered vehicles.

In Arizona, more than 34,000 people experienced a car accident-related injury in 2013, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT).

Most crashes happen during rush hour on Fridays, with October ranking as the peak month for accidents, according to ADOT.

Most crashes happen because of people driving too fast, ADOT says, so the next time you’re racing down the road, consider slowing down to prevent an accident. Seat belts are also important for keeping passengers safe in case of a collision.

What are the most common types of car accident injuries?

Whiplash is one of the more common injuries resulting from a car accident. It’s most frequently caused by rear-end collisions, when the impact causes a person’s neck to jolt back and forth. The bones affected are the cervical facet joints, which are the joints located between the vertebrae in the cervical spine, located in the neck.

Symptoms include neck pain and stiffness, headaches, and blurred vision. Some people may experience ringing in the ears or problems with memory or concentration, but this is less common. To diagnose whiplash, doctors typically order X-rays or more thorough tests like MRIs or CT scans that have the ability to detect soft tissue damage.

Another type of neck pain involves damage to the discs in between vertebrae in the cervical spine. Patients experiencing this type of injury will likely feel pain or stiffness.

Head injuries are common in car crash victims, and can result from a blow to the head upon impact. Traumatic brain injury may result, such as a concussion. Symptoms of a concussion include loss of consciousness immediately following impact, headache, impaired memory, dizziness, or vision problems.

Internal bleeding is another common injury, as are cuts, scrapes, and broken bones. Some people also develop back pain from car accident injuries. Even if the victim did not sustain a blow to the back, sudden, jarring movements may result in discomfort. Back pain may sometimes be caused by whiplash, but other times it has no clear cause other than the collision.

While cuts and scrapes are apparent immediately after the accident, symptoms for some injuries, including whiplash and more serious head traumas, may take a few days to develop. Stay aware in the days and weeks following any car accident to make sure you receive the necessary treatment.

How are car accident injuries treated?

Physical therapy

The exact regimen of physical therapy will vary depending upon the patient and type of injury sustained, but injuries typically helped by physical therapy include neck pain, whiplash, back pain, or any other musculoskeletal discomfort. Treatment may include a combination of hands-on stretching or strengthening exercises, ice and/or heat, or other techniques.

Therapists work with patients to develop a customized series of exercises to help them regain muscle strength and flexibility. Building strength is just as important as regaining flexibility, and physical therapy regimens include a mixture of exercises to achieve both those goals.

A physical therapist guides patients through exercises, and patients will also be given a set of exercises to complete on their own.

Chiropractic care

Chiropractic care helps the body regain optimal spinal alignment, which is often lost during traumatic incidents like car accidents. During treatment, chiropractors often use a method known as spinal manipulation or adjustment. This method involves the use of controlled force to re-align vertebrae and stop them from placing painful pressure on spinal nerves.

Spinal adjustments may help you feel better after just one treatment, although some patients need multiple treatments to achieve the desired effect.


Several types of injections are available to alleviate persistent pain that develops following car accident injuries. No matter the name or specific type of medication, injections are all designed to directly target the pain-causing nerves—as opposed to pills, for example, that impact the entire body and are systemic.

Since injections do involve needles and powerful medications, they’re slightly more invasive than the other types of therapies mentioned, and so they’re recommended on a case-by-case basis.

Injection options for whiplash may include, for example, trigger point injections, which are particularly helpful to stop muscle spasms, while facet injections may help alleviate pain in the cervical facet joints. Cervical epidural steroid injections are another commonly used option.

Injections help to alleviate inflammation and pain. The quick procedure generally begins with a topical anesthetic, followed by an injection. Many people experience rapid pain relief.

Non-surgical therapy

Some patients may benefit from a procedure known as cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy. This fancy-sounding technique interrupts problematic nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. The outpatient procedure lasts about an hour and involves the use of heat to damage the offending nerve. Pain relief lasts anywhere from several months to several years.

What treatments are you considering to manage car accident injuries?

Image by valkrye131 via Flickr

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