The time immediately following a car accident can be confusing and overwhelming. Your first instinct might be to check on your passengers or any other vehicle occupants. Depending on where the accident occurred and the condition of the vehicles, you might also need to safely move your car over to the side of the road.
If you don’t have any injury symptoms that are immediately obvious, you might even be under the false impression that you survived the collision unscathed. In reality, injury symptoms sometimes take hours, days, or even weeks to fully surface.
When you begin to feel the first twinge of pain or an ache that wasn’t there before, you should not hesitate to seek medical attention. Neck and shoulder pain after a car accident could be indicative of serious injuries for which you will need prompt medical care.
What Neck Pain After a Car Accident Might Indicate
Neck pain can be debilitating. When it hurts to turn your head, look down, or even just look straight ahead, the rest of your life can quickly begin to feel like it’s falling apart. Neck pain is not always isolated, either. If you are suffering from a car accident-related neck injury, you could experience any of the following symptoms:
- Generalized neck pain
- Pain that radiates down to your shoulders, arms, and hands
- Tingling or weakness in your arms and hands
In addition to taking your symptoms into account, your doctor might also perform a physical examination and order imaging tests before making a diagnosis. X-rays and CT scans can help doctors get a better idea of what’s going on inside your body and may aid in diagnosing neck injuries such as:
- Whiplash – Whiplash is perhaps one of the most well-known car accident injuries. Whiplash causes damage to the neck muscles and ligaments and is the result of your head whipping violently back and forth, much like the motion caused during a rear-end collision.
- Neck Fractures – A broken neck is a severe injury that requires immediate medical attention. In the most serious situations, it may cause paralysis or even death. Neck fractures cause severe pain, so you will likely know that something is wrong right away. If there is any suspicion that you or another person has suffered a neck fracture in a car accident, call for emergency medical help right away and do not move until that help arrives.
- Herniated or Slipped Discs – Our necks contain six intervertebral discs. In a high-impact collision, these discs can slip out of place. This alone is very painful, but a slipped disc can also compress nearby nerves located in the spinal cord, which may lead to pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness that radiates from the neck to the shoulders, arms, and hands.
- Facet Joint Injuries – The cervical, lumbar, and thoracic facet joints support neck movement and are what make it possible for us to do things like nod or turn our heads. A car crash can easily irritate or inflame these joints, making this type of movement difficult, if not impossible. Any damage to the nearby ligaments could also drastically reduce the range of motion in your neck.
- Soft Tissue Damage – Strains or sprains in the ligaments, muscles, or tendons of the neck can be debilitating. Victims of soft tissue damage most often experience pain, stiffness, and tenderness in their necks and shoulders. Painful muscle spasms and reduced range of motion are also common.
When left untreated, neck injuries can cause long-term, chronic problems. Unfortunately, prompt medical care is not always a guarantee that your life will return to normal. If an accident-related neck injury has limited your ability to enjoy life, you might need the help of a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. They can help you determine what kind of compensation you might be entitled to.
What Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident Might Indicate
While neck injuries often radiate pain down into the shoulders, pain located exclusively or primarily in the shoulders can be indicative of something else. After an accident, be aware of any of the following symptoms located in or near your shoulder:
- Localized shoulder pain
- Pain that gets worse with movement
- Limited range of motion
- Pain that radiates down the arm or up the neck
- Tingling or weakness in the affected area
These symptoms could be an indication that something much more serious is going on underneath the surface of your skin. If you start to exhibit any of the above symptoms or struggle to use or move your shoulder as normal, get medical attention right away. These could be symptoms of serious shoulder injuries such as:
- Fractured Clavicles – A fractured clavicle (also known as the collarbone) can cause pain and swelling in the shoulder. It will also severely limit your range of motion, making everything from raising your arm to reaching for an object exceptionally painful and difficult.
- Torn Rotator Cuffs – The four muscles that attach the humerus bone in your arm to the shoulder blade are called the rotator cuff. A large impact like that of a car accident can cause these muscles to tear. You might not experience pain all the time with a torn rotator cuff, but instead only when performing certain movements, such as rotating or lifting your arm. You might also notice a crackling sensation when you move your arm.
- Dislocated Shoulder Joints – Your upper arm bone rests in a cup-shaped socket located in your shoulder blade. A strong impact can cause the arm bone to pop out of the socket and become dislocated. When left untreated, it can cause muscle damage as well as chronic health conditions.
- Soft Tissue Damage – Any injury to the ligaments, muscles, or tendons located in the shoulder region is considered soft tissue damage. Do not let the term “soft” mislead you about these injuries, as they can cause severe pain and long-term problems. For example, superior labrum anterior and posterior (SLAP) tears affecting the cartilage located around the shoulder joint require surgery.
Depending on the severity of your shoulder injuries, you might need outpatient care or could be hospitalized.
When To Seek Medical Attention After an Accident
Evaluating yourself and others for possible injuries is one of the first things you should do after a car accident. If anyone appears to be injured or in serious pain, do not hesitate to call 911 right away.
However, it is possible to suffer a serious injury and not realize it until much later. During an accident, our bodies release the hormone adrenaline, which is most commonly associated with the fight-or-flight response. A surge of adrenaline can limit and even suppress feelings of pain. Only later, when the adrenaline starts to subside, will the symptoms of a serious neck or shoulder injury start to surface. Sometimes symptoms take time to develop, even in the absence of adrenaline, not showing up until hours or days later.
The car accident attorneys at Pittman Roberts & Welsh, PLLC understand just how debilitating neck and shoulder injuries can be. Unfortunately, we are also all too aware that the insurance company might try to use any delay of symptoms or seeking medical care to limit or even deny compensation.
You deserve better after a car accident caused by another person’s negligence. For a free evaluation of your case and the opportunity to talk with an experienced car accident lawyer, get in touch with us today.