All About Back and Neck Injuries From Rear-End Car Accidents

Rear-end crashes are the most common type of car accident in the U.S., making up about 42% of all traffic crashes. In San Diego, a query on the Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS) shows 1,676 rear-end crashes out of 4,630 multi-vehicle collisions in 2022. This translates into just over 36% of crashes taking the form of a rear-end accident.

In a rear-end crash, both vehicles are pointed in the same direction. As a result, all the crash energy goes into pushing the vehicles and their occupants back and forth. This whipping action is uniquely suited to injuring the spine and spinal cord, leading to neck and back injuries.

What Happens To the Body in a Rear-End Collision?

A rear-end collision happens when a rear vehicle rams the back of a front vehicle, which can be either stopped or moving. But these crashes, by definition, occur when both vehicles point in the same direction. The occupants of each vehicle experience similar forces but in a different sequence.

The Rear Vehicle

When you’re in the rear vehicle, your body tends to keep moving forward when the car abruptly stops due to the collision. Your forward momentum causes you to slide forward in your seat and bend forward at the waist. If you are wearing your seat belt, you hit that before colliding with the dashboard or steering wheel. Without a seat belt, you slam into whatever is in front of you.

In either case, your body stops moving before your head does. The force of your head moving forward will stress your neck, producing two effects. 

First, your spine will hyperextend. When you slam on the brakes, your spine ligaments will pull the neck back into position, compressing it. Thus, your spine will experience a cycle of hyperextension and compression. Second, your head acts as a weight at the end of your spine, causing the spine to impart a powerful snapping force to the neck and back.

The Front Vehicle

When in the front vehicle, you experience the same forces but in the opposite order. You get pushed back into your seat by the impact from behind. Your head then whips backward, hyperextending your spine.

As you slam on the brakes, you whip forward, and your neck compresses before hyperextending again when you whip forward into your seat belts, dashboard, or steering wheel. The hyperextension-compression cycle and the whip-cracking forces will injure your neck and back.

Examples of Rear-End Collision Injuries

Rear-end collisions can cause a range of injuries. According to the National Safety Council, rear-end collisions account for roughly 40% of injury accidents but only about 18.5% of all traffic fatalities. This means they are far less fatal than head-on and angle collisions, even though they are much more common.

But the forces involved in a rear-end crash can still cause serious injuries to the neck and back, including the following:

Sprains and Strains

Ligaments hold your spine together. When these ligaments hyperextend, sprains happen. 

The damage to them can cause symptoms such as:

  • Spine pain and inflammation
  • Limited range of motion
  • Bruises
  • Popping sound at the time of injury

Muscles give your back strength and movement. These muscles attach to your pelvis, spine, skull, shoulder blades, collar bones, and ribs through tendons. 

Strains occur when the muscles and tendons hyperextend and can cause symptoms like:

  • Muscle pain and swelling
  • Back stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms

A mild strain or sprain will heal in four to six weeks. A severe strain or sprain could take longer to heal, but doctors rarely perform surgery for a strained or sprained back or neck.

Deformed Discs

Collagen discs sit between the vertebrae of your spine. The cycle of hyperextension and compression can crush and deform the discs. When the discs herniate or bulge, your spine gets pulled out of position, producing pain and instability.

The deformed disc can also press on nerve roots next to your spine. This nerve compression can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness and produce pain that radiates from your back into your arms or legs.

Doctors have limited options for treating deformed discs. They can inject anti-inflammatory medication into the back to reduce the nerve inflammation that produces the symptoms. Alternatively, they can remove the damaged disc. But this surgery can further destabilize the spine and stress the back and neck.

Fractured Vertebra

When your spine hyperextends and compresses, the forces can fracture the vertebrae. A broken vertebra can cause pain as the spine destabilizes. But more importantly, the bone fragments produced by a broken spine can injure the spinal cord.

Spinal Cord Injury

When a bone fragment dislocates into the spinal canal, it can sever the nerves of the spinal cord. Spinal cord injuries produce partial or total paralysis and loss of sensation.

The location of the injury will determine its effects. If your spinal cord gets severed in your neck, you will experience functional losses in all four limbs. When your spinal cord gets severed in your back, you will only lose movement and sensation in your lower body.

Liability For Rear-End Crash Injuries

Rear-end crashes happen for many reasons, including:

Liability for the injuries caused by rear-end crashes will usually fall on the driver of the rear vehicle. Drivers in California must follow other vehicles at a safe distance. When they do not, they risk causing a rear-end collision and bearing financial responsibility for any resulting injuries.

Liability can also fall on the driver of the front vehicle. This is usually the case when the driver cuts off the rear vehicle, leaving it without enough space to stop safely.

Getting Personal Injury Compensation After a Rear-End Crash in San Diego, CA

You can receive compensation for economic and non-economic losses after sustaining a back or neck injury in a rear-end collision. 

Your economic damages include medical costs, lost income, diminished earning capacity, and out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the crash. Your non-economic damages include all the ways your quality of life suffered after your injury, such as pain, mental anguish, and disability. 

Assessing liability and damages after a crash requires the application of complex legal principles. A San Diego car accident lawyer can evaluate your claim for compensation to determine what you might be eligible to receive.

Contact the San Diego Car Accident Law Firm of Mission Personal Injury Lawyers Today To Get More Information

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in San Diego or Chula Vista, please call Mission Personal Injury Lawyers for a free case evaluation with a personal injury lawyer or contact us online.

We proudly serve San Diego County and throughout California.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers
2515 Camino del Rio S Suite 350, San Diego, CA 92108

(619) 777-5555

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – Chula Vista Office
690 Otay Lakes Rd #130, Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 722-3032

We also serve the state of Texas. Contact our personal injury law office in El Paso for legal assistance today.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – El Paso Office
201 E Main Suite 106, El Paso, Texas 79901
(915) 591-1000