Back Pain After A Car Accident: When To See A Doctor

Back pain after a car accident is expected because of injury to muscle and possibly the spinal cord, which requires you to see a doctor.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

Email  |  Call (888) 600-8654

Have a quick question? I answered nearly 1500 FAQs.

What is the most common back pain from a car accident?

The spinal column is a long structure that extends from the bottom of the skull to the end of the tailbone. This column is composed of thirty-three vertebrae, all of which transmit neural signals to the brain and all over the human body. A car accident can easily injure a part of the spinal cord or column, leading to medical problems with the rest of the body, including back pain. You should see a doctor for back pain after a car accident to diagnose and treat underlying injuries. Knowing when to see a doctor is crucial for maintaining your health and well-being. I understand the lower back pain you’re experiencing after the car accident; it can be incredibly challenging to manage such discomfort, especially when it disrupts your daily life.

A car accident may cause many different back injuries, though a lot of problems are the result of whiplash. Whiplash causes injury to the soft tissue and may lead to other major spinal issues. These injuries include sprains, strains, herniated discs, and fractures. If a person has previous back problems such as spinal stenosis, then a car collision can worsen the preexisting condition.

If you experience persistent symptoms that don’t improve with home remedies or over-the-counter treatments, it’s advisable to seek medical attention promptly. The symptoms of a back injury after a car accident differ, and an individual may suffer from one or more types of injury. It can also be difficult to diagnose the exact source of pain without running tests for diagnosis. This is because different injuries may exhibit similar symptoms. Understanding the causes of back pain after a car accident involves considering factors like the force of impact, seatbelt positioning, and the body’s reaction to sudden jolts during the crash.

  1. Whiplash

Whiplash is one of the most common kinds of car accident injuries, as well as spinal injuries. Whiplash happens when the head is quickly pulled forward then back, snapping the neck in the manner of a whip. Whiplash generally injures the ligaments, facet joints, tendons, discs, and muscles in the neck. It is associated with the following symptoms:

    • Neck pain/stiffness
    • Neck pain with movement
    • Limited range of motion in neck
    • Headaches
    • Dizziness and fatigue
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Poor concentration
    • Depression
    • Tinnitus
    • Vision problems

Risk factors of whiplash include the following:

    • Rear-end crashes
    • High speed crashes
    • Passenger’s head is further from the headrest at the time of the accident

Long-term medical problems include the following:

    • Long-lasting neck pain
    • Radiating pain in the shoulders and arms
    • Bad headaches

Often, a case of whiplash will resolve on its own with time and does not merit a lawsuit. That said, whiplash can be severe depending on the nature of the accident.

  1. Thoracic or Lumbar Vertebrae Injuries

A spinal fracture occurs when vertebrae crack, break, or are somehow injured. The human body has thirty-three vertebrae that protect the spinal cord and form the backbone. When one of these is injured, the individual may be said to have a broken back. A doctor may use this terminology to describe a back fracture:

  • Burst Fracture: This occurs when parts of the bones are crushed and bone fragments have scattered.
  • Compression Fracture: When excessive pressure is applied, there can be cracks or fractures in the vertebrae
  • Flexion Fractures: This is when a vertebra breaks; fractures usually happen in the posterior or middle parts of the spine.
  • Fracture-dislocation: This is a mixture of a dislocation of the vertebrae and a fracture.

Intervertebral disc injuries to C4/C5 and C5/C6 are the most common to happen in the neck. Symptoms of this injury include pain in the arms and shoulders, which mainly affects people with physically demanding occupations.

The majority of injuries to the spinal cord derive from trauma to the vertebrae. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of spinal injuries for people under the age of sixty-five. A complete spinal cord injury means that motor and sensory function under the point of impact are disrupted. An incomplete spinal cord injury involves partially limited function. Symptoms of a spinal cord injury include loss of bladder and bowel function, as well as difficulty breathing. When to see a doctor also includes situations where symptoms worsen, causing significant discomfort or interfering with your daily activities.

  1. Back Strains and Sprains

When an individual suffers a strain in their back, this means that their soft tissue has been overstretched, which causes pain and injury. A strain refers to the tendons of the back, which tie the muscles to bones. By contrast, a sprain causes damage to the ligaments that connect bones or joints or bones to different bones.

Strains and sprains alike can cause persistent pain. Because imaging cannot pick up on this kind of injury, it is important to talk about the potential with one’s physician. Dealing with lower back pain following an accident can be not just physically exhausting but emotionally draining as well, and it’s completely understandable to feel overwhelmed by it.

  1. Herniated Discs

A car crash can result in the discs of the spine moving and compressing, causing what is known as a herniated disc. This injury happens when the inside section of the spinal disc is pushed out of the outer section.

A doctor might use the words bulging, slipped, and ruptured to refer to a herniated disc. This is a serious condition because the part that sticks out can rub against nerves, causing numbness, burning, or weakness that impacts other parts of the body.

  1. Spondylolisthesis

This condition occurs when a vertebra is pushed out of place by a stress fracture. When the vertebrae shift, the motion can squeeze the spinal cord or nerves. The degree of movement and its location affect pain and the relevant treatment. Usually, sufferers experience pain, weakness and numbness. They may also have a hard time walking or exercising.

  1. Facet Joint Injuries

Facet joints are positioned between the spinal bones. Nerve roots pass through the joints into separate regions of the body, including the limbs. Facet joints allow an individual to twist or bend without hurting the spine. A damaged facet joint, however, can cause pain.

Previous untreated trauma or thinning cartilage can cause issues with facet joints. Muscles may spasm or tighten as a result, which can cause the outer part of the back to feel tender or undergo pain that radiates.

  1. Discogenic pain

Damage to the spinal discs can cause discogenic pain. This kind of discomfort includes shotting sensations or sharp pains. It can cause sciatica, which means that pain radiates through the buttocks and onto the feet, groin, or legs.

Discogenic pain can cause people to feel discomfort. Some people feel better lying down, while others may find standing feels more comfortable. Any activity that lasts for a long period can make the pain worse.

  1. Degenerative Spinal Disorders

If an individual suffers a severe injury to his or her back, they may get a degenerative disc disorder sometime in the future. It may also encourage other unknown health problems. As the human body gets older, previous injury combines with degeneration may cause:

  • Degenerative scoliosis
  • Bulging discs
  • Spinal osteoarthritis
  • Spinal osteoarthritis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Bone spurs
  • Herniated discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Sciatica
  • Foraminal stenosis
  • Pinched nerves
  1. Spinal Stenosis

When the spaces between the vertebra narrow, pressure is put on the spinal cord, which can lead to weakness, numbness, and pain.

  1. Spinal Cord Damage

Tearing, nicking, bruising, or stretching of the spinal cord can lead to impaired motion and sensation. In fact, some individuals may be permanently paralyzed in the body below the site of injury. When the neck is extended by force, the spinal cord may be compressed and damaged. The cord may swell, bleed, and bruise. The center of the cord is responsible for moving the arms, and it is most severely damaged in this situation. Therefore, a common symptom if weakness in the arms, which makes everyday tasks difficult to perform. The legs may also be impacted by this kind of injury.

  1. Pinched nerve/radiculopathy

Because the spine is compact, when things move out of place, problems can easily arise. When the tissues surrounding nerve roots change in nature, it can result in a pinched nerve. Radiculopathy is when weakness, numbness, and pain radiate from the problematic nerve to other parts of the body. Pinched nerves are often the result of herniated discs.

  1. Secondary injuries

Understanding when to see a doctor involves recognizing concerning signs such as high fever, severe pain, sudden dizziness, or difficulty breathing. Injuries to the spinal cord may cause other health issues, such as cardiovascular, urinary, respiratory, and bowel problems. There could also be muscular pain, pressure ulcers, fertility and sexual difficulties, bone fractures, osteoporosis, and depression. Studies have discovered a connection between back pain to the spine and head trauma. Victims of car accidents with spinal cord injuries were later diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury between twenty-five to fifty percent of the time. One-third of individuals with spinal cord injuries also suffered from serious head injuries. Managing back pain after a car accident may necessitate treatments like physical therapy, chiropractic care, pain medications, or, in severe cases, surgical intervention. Our car accident lawyer Los Angeles drivers trust to with back pain after an accident.

What are the symptoms of a back injury from a car accident?

After a car crash, it is not unusual to feel sore, which can make it difficult to identify which pain is related solely to the back. It can be helpful to know what to expect after an accident to determine what to do next. Documenting back pain after a car accident through medical evaluations and records is vital for insurance claims or potential legal actions related to the injury. It is incredibly difficult to cope with lower back pain, and your feelings of frustration or distress are completely valid.

Because the spine includes the large area from the neck to the hips, pain can radiate to many different regions of the body. After a car accident, back pain may stem from inflammation, fractures, or compressed nerves. The symptoms may be uncomfortable but tolerable, or they may make everyday tasks impossible to do.

After a car accident, one may deal with any of the following back pain:

  • Muscle spasms: A muscle may repeatedly twitch, feel tender when touched, or feel like a hard knot. Muscle spasms vary when it comes to discomfort; they may be mild or debilitating.
  • Burning pain: A harsh pain may move down one’s back and buttocks through the back of both legs. This can be a mild pain that goes away, or it can be a burning discomfort that lasts for days.
  • Stiffness: An individual may not feet as flexible following a car accident because of their muscles tensing up. This kind of stiffness may fade after some stretching, or it could be continuous.
  • Sharp pain: Changing positions, such as standing or sitting up, can cause a sharp pain in one’s back.
  • Pain when standing or walking: Sometimes, physical activity in itself is painful, causing a throbbing sensation or mild pain when one does everyday tasks.
  • Tingling or numbness: Because the spinal cord connects the body’s limbs, tense muscles can pinch nerves, which may lead to feelings of tingling or numbness in the hands, feet, legs, or arms.

If an individual is experiencing disorientation, headaches, or dizziness after a car collision, then it is likely he or she has endured damage to their cervical vertebrae because of whiplash. It is important that an individual make note of their symptoms, including tracking what activities worsen the pain and how often the discomfort occurs.

What types of car accidents cause back pain?

The neck, otherwise known as the cervical spine, is the region of the back most commonly injured in car accidents. While seatbelts are still helpful and necessary, they permit the neck to bend to the front, side, and back while keeping the rest of the body in place. When the body collides with the belt, other injuries to the spine may occur.

In frontal-impact accidents, the head and torso are thrust forward. The problem is that the head and chest may move at different speeds, which can damage the neck. When the seatbelt stops the torso from jolting forward in an accident, the head continues its trajectory, which can cause damage to the neck. Hernias and tears in the neck are common, specifically in the C5/C6 vertebrae.

An accident that happens at a high-speed can cause a chance fracture in the thoracic or lumbar spine. This happens due to the spine bending against the seatbelt. A chance fracture is when the front of the spine is squeezed and the back is split apart. This can crush or tear the spinal cord.

Rear-end accidents see the driver’s torso pushed backward into the seat. The force applies pressure to the thoracic discs and vertebrae. The neck, meanwhile, if pushed backward, can receive damage to the discs, cervical vertebrae, ligaments, and spinal cord. The lap restraint may also injure the lumbar area of the spine.

People sitting on the side of impact when a vehicle is struck tend to get more severe injuries. When a car is struck from the side, the body moves side to side, rather than forward and back. The seatbelt keeps the lower body in place, but cannot keep the head, neck, and torso from moving. Sideways bending and impact with the car door can cause further injury.

With regard to motorcycle accidents, the thoracic spine usually takes the most damage. Because motorcycles do not have seatbelts, the body bends normally at the midsection. More than half of motorcycle accidents involve injuries to multiple parts of the spine, and ten percent of accidents involving such back injuries are deadly.

The severity of an individual’s back injury after a car crash will depend on the direction and speed of the crash. The faster a car was moving, the more likely there will be a serious injury. This is why it is important to heed the speed limit, drive carefully, and not to ride with a drunk driver.

When a vehicle rolls over during a collision, there is a much bigger risk of spinal injuries. The body endures many changes in direction and at great speed. The head may hit the roof of the car or the door, and this impact can jeopardize the spine. There is also a chance that a person’s body may be thrown from the car. It is more common for SUVs to rollover due to their top-heavy design. Even when they do not tip over, SUVs are more likely to cause spinal injuries in a car accident.

There are particular risk factors that make an individual more likely to receive a spine injury in a car accident. Young men are at the greatest risk because they are more likely to drive dangerously. Also, according to physics, people who weigh more will endure greater forces upon impact, making their injuries more serious. Seatbelts can help reduce the risk of a spinal injury, especially in rear-end and head-on accidents. Knowing when to see a doctor empowers you to address health issues promptly, ensuring timely diagnosis and treatment for better outcomes.


What is the average settlement for a back injury in a car accident?

An individual who receives a back injury in a car accident may file a claim to receive a settlement, which can help with the resulting pain, expenses, and lifestyle changes. The median payout for a back injury is about $215,000. That said, a back injury settlement amount depends mainly on the kind of injury suffered. Lower back pain after the car accident will affect your ability to do everyday tasks and will also affect how much money you get.

  • Spinal cord injuries: Spinal cord injuries typically get the largest settlement amounts. These injuries include fractured or dislocated vertebrae. The average settlement is these cases exceed $1 million.
  • Intervertebral disc injuries: Injuries involving herniated discs tend to warrant bigger settlements than bulging or ruptured discs. The average settlement ranges from $20,000 to $1 million. The compensation will depend on:
    • What the CT/MRI scan shows
    • How the injury is treated
    • Whether there was any previous back injury
    • Physical symptoms and impact on quality of life
  • Herniated discs that need back surgery get the largest settlement. This is because there are many risks that come with back surgery, including spinal fluid leak, thrombophlebitis, infection, and even death. Of course, surgery may offer more relief than more tentative treatment. In any case, a car accident claim with surgery will always earn greater compensation. The average settlement is $25,000 to $1 million.
  • Epidural steroid injections – no surgery: Following a car accident, epidural steroid injections can help with radiating back pain. Juries tend to award large settlements for injuries requiring this manner of treatment. It is an ordeal to have a large needle inserted into one’s back, and jurors sympathize with the pain involved. That said, even when injections are clearly needed, insurance companies are skeptical. These cases are more likely to go to court than others. The average settlement is $30,000 to $90,000.
  • Soft tissue and whiplash injuries: Soft tissue injuries are less likely to receive a large settlement amount. The average settlement is $15,000 to $45,000. These injuries include problems like whiplash. The settlement payouts in such cases will depend on the following factors:
    • Whether there were pre-existing back injuries
    • The severity of the injury
    • The credibility of the plaintiff
    • How significant the impact was
    • What insurance company is involved
    • The jurisdiction

In back injury cases, the plaintiff’s credibility is very important. Because these kinds of injuries are quite common, juries tend to be skeptical. Also, the seriousness of back injuries is often not observable on MRI and CT scans.

Can a pre-existing condition affect compensation for new injuries?

Back injury cases become much more complicated when pre-existing injuries are involved, such as spondylosis and spinal stenosis. Sometimes people have problems with their intervertebral discs without knowing it, and a car accident could trigger symptoms or worsen the issue. An insurance company may use an x-ray to claim that a victim’s back already had problems at the time of the accident, and therefore, the accident did not cause the injury.

That said, a victim may still get a fair settlement even with previous injuries. In the end, the law in California is that compensation should take into account the change in the victim’s condition following the collision. If an individual did not have pain prior to a car accident, then developed medical problems afterward, the accident likely caused the injury.

To win this kind of case, it is important that a plaintiff have a lawyer and doctors who can describe the difference between pre-existing problems and the victim’s present medical status. If the crash did not cause a change in one’s condition, then it is unlikely he or she will get a payout of significant value. The greater the change in condition, the larger the settlement.

Can you get delayed back pain after a car accident?

Following a car accident, a back injury is not always immediately observable due to the absence of pain. Adrenaline can hide injuries, so a victim may believe themselves to be healthy. It is therefore crucial that a person keep an eye out for any unusual or uncomfortable sensations after the accident, as well as visit their doctor for a physical exam. If an individual waits too long to receive treatment, they may not be able to prove that the car crash caused their back injury when it does present itself. An insurance adjuster would argue, too, that the injury must not be that serious if it did not bother the victim for so long after the accident.

What happens if my back hurts after a car accident?

Given your lower back pain after the car accident, it’s essential to seek treatment promptly to address the underlying issues causing this discomfort. The human back is a complicated collection of bones, nerves, discs, tendons, and muscles. It allows a person to stand and move, as well as facilitates messages to other parts of the body. Every region of the back has the potential to suffer injury, especially after sudden and forceful events like a car accident. The effects of such a stressful impact can be horrific. It is important to seek medical treatment directly after a car accident.

Collaborating with specialists experienced in handling lower back pain following accidents will ensure a holistic approach to your treatment, promoting a quicker and more effective recovery. After seeing a doctor, an individual should speak with a personal injury lawyer with experience in car accident claims. Back injury claims are usually complicated, and the insurance company involved will fight tooth and nail not to pay a large sum to the victim.

What is the best pain relief after a car accident?

Treatment options for lower back pain after a car accident may include physical therapy, tailored exercises, and chiropractic care to alleviate the pain and aid in your recovery. The specific treatment for a back injury following a car accident will depend on the seriousness and type of injuries. Standard treatment options include MRIs, x-rays, and CT scans, all of which may be used to diagnose injuries. For milder injuries, doctors will often recommend rest, painkillers and anti-inflammatories, corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, and chiropractic care. Pain medication and pain management techniques can help alleviate the discomfort while addressing the underlying cause of your lower back pain post-accident. For more serious and long-lasting injuries, surgery may be required, especially when it comes to herniated discs, fractures, and spinal cord injuries. There is also the option of speech and occupational therapy, as well as support groups for those who suffer disabling injuries. It’s crucial to follow a comprehensive treatment plan to not only manage your current symptoms but also prevent potential long-term effects of the lower back pain resulting from the car accident.

After a car accident, a victim should pay close attention to any strange sensations in their back. At the first sign of pain or discomfort, he or she should seek immediate medical attention. The chances of a full recovery are much greater when treatment is quickly sought. Also, getting a medical exam earlier on can be helpful in documenting injuries and how they affect one’s life.   When the victim files a claim for their injuries, he or she will need to prove their pain and suffering, and that they are deserving of compensation.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

See all blogs: Business | Corporate | Employment Law

Most recent blogs:

Car Accident Help Against Insurance Company

The aftermath of a car accident in California - minor scrape or a major collision - requires knowledge and preparation to avoid costly mistakes. This comprehensive guide offers step-by-step advice on what to do post-accident, including interactions with insurance companies and a handy checklist for quick reference. It emphasizes the importance of understanding your auto insurance policy and its coverage, ensuring you're well-equipped to handle any incident on the road efficiently and effectively.

What To Do in An Accident?

After an accident, do the following: ensure everyone is safe and call 911 if necessary; exchange insurance information with the other driver(s); and report the accident to your car insurance company.

The Truth About Uninsured Motorist Coverage

The truth about uninsured motorist coverage has been unfolded, revealing its vital role in protecting drivers financially in a variety of scenarios. We've explored how this coverage, while varying by state and policy, offers indispensable security against the uncertainties of accidents with uninsured drivers.

Second Assumption of Risk Defense

Secondary assumption of risk is when one willingly and voluntarily puts oneself in a dangerous situation due to someone else’s negligence.

How MICRA affects Medical Malpractice Litigation

MICRA caps plaintiffs' personal injury general damages at $350,000 and wrongful death at $500,000. Also, under MICRA, a plaintiff in a malpractice case only has one year from the date they discover their injury was caused by negligence to sue a medical provider.

Personal Injury Lawyer: How to Prove Pain and Suffering

Our personal injury lawyer discusses the challenges of quantifying pain and suffering in personal injury claims, underscoring the pivotal role of lawyers in guiding jury assessments. It emphasizes the significance of medical evidence and expert testimony in translating subjective pain into legal terms for fair and clear courtroom deliberations.

Sacral Nerve Damage Symptoms

Symptoms of sacral nerve damage includes: lower back pain, numbness or tingling in the lower back, muscle weakness, bowel or bladder dysfunction, sensory changes, and difficulty walking.

What are date rape drugs?

Date-rape drugs are substances that make it easier for someone to sexually assault or rape another person usually by making the victim unconscious.

Back Injury Car Accident Settlement

The average settlement value for a back injury in an auto accident lawsuit ranges from $12,000 for minor injuries to $500,000 for injuries requiring surgery. A lot depends on the severity of the injury and the costs of medical treatments.

What Do You Do When Someone Hits Your Car?

When someone hits your car, ensure all passengers are not hurt, then exchange insurance information and contact information with the other driver. Next, take many photos and witness statements, and report the incident to your insurance company.

Car Accident Law in California

Two main things drivers must know about California car accident law: 1) All drivers must have a minimum of $15,000 for each person injured or killed in an accident, $30,000 for injury/death of two or more persons in one accident, and a minimum of $5,000 for property damage in any one accident, and 2) drivers who are found to be at fault for a car accident may be held liable for any damages or injuries that result from the accident.

What To Do After A Car Accident Not Your Fault

You should do three things after a car accident that is not your fault: 1) take photos of the cars from the front and the rear of each vehicle, including the surrounding landscape or landmarks; 2) exchange driver's licenses and insurance information, and 3) report to your insurance company.

Who is at fault in an accident?

To determine fault in a car accident, you must show that the driver was negligent; you prove a driver was negligent by showing what the driver did that violated a law.

California Trucking Laws

California law requires that all trucks equipment, such as lights, windshields, reflectors, etc., must comply with the United States Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration standards.

Stalking Law and Elements (California)

The term “stalking” is defined as a person engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress or fear for their safety.

What Are Brain Injury Symptoms From Car Accident?

Common brain injury symptoms may include headaches, nausea and vomiting, losing sensation in the face, Paralysis of facial muscles, blurry vision and dizziness, Chronic migraines/headaches, loss of consciousness, bleeding and swelling of the brain, or nerve damage.

Contact our attorney.

Please tell us your story:

3 + 0 = ?