Managing Upper Back Pain After a Car Accident

This article was updated August 2023.

Just because upper back pain is less common than lower back pain doesn’t mean it’s any less debilitating.

If you’re experiencing upper back pain after an accident, you shouldn’t wait to seek out medical treatment. Even if your pain seems mild now, it may worsen over time if it’s left untreated. And in some cases, unresolved upper back issues can increase your risk for serious conditions like osteoarthritis.

An experienced Pembroke Pines chiropractor like Dr. Rush can help you find relief and prevent future injuries. And whether you’re currently dealing with an injury or just want to learn how to prevent one in the future, here’s a guide to everything you need to know about treating back pain after an accident:

What Causes Thoracic Back Pain After a Car Accident?

 The thoracic spine is made up of the 12 vertebrae in the upper and middle part of the back. These vertebrae connect to your ribs and play an important role in protecting your internal, vital organs, so the thoracic spine is less mobile than the neck or the lower back (lumbar spine).

injuries to the upper back tend to be more severe

This means that injuries to the upper back happen less often, but when they do occur, they tend to be more severe.

The upper back also supports less of your body weight than the lower back, so if you’re experiencing upper back pain, it’s more likely to be tied to a traumatic injury like a vehicle accident or a fall than to the daily wear and tear that often impacts the other parts of the back.

Keep in mind that this pain may begin immediately after a car accident, gradually increase over time, or suddenly begin weeks after the accident.

Why You Should Visit a Chiropractor for Back Pain Relief from a Car Accident

Why You Should Visit a Chiropractor for Back Pain Relief from a Car Accident

If your upper back hurts after being rear-ended (or from any other type of car accident), a chiropractor has more tools at their disposal than your primary care doctor will.

Your primary care doctor might have some limited experience with back injuries, but chiropractors deal with them almost every day. And where a doctor who doesn’t specialize in the spine will typically prescribe you pain medication; a chiropractor can take a more holistic approach that includes both pain relief and long-term healing.

Medication may provide relief for a period of time, but it doesn’t address the root problem that’s causing your pain. So, in cases where your back cannot heal on its own, your pain levels will continue to increase over time, and your injury may even continue to get worse.

When you visit Rush Chiropractic and Rehab, we take the time to do a full consultation — including X-Rays when necessary — to identify the root source of your pain and develop an effective treatment plan. This treatment plan may include a variety of methods beyond just chiropractic adjustment, including strategies like:

  • Electrical muscle stimulation
  • Exercise and nutrition advice
  • Physical therapy
  • Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching
  • Spinal decompression therapy

Whether you were recently in a car accident or experience lingering pain from an incident that happened months or even years ago, chiropractic care can help you heal properly and start feeling pain relief sooner.

Common Causes of Upper Back Pain from Car Accidents

 The thoracic spine is complex, which is why it’s so important to get treatment from an expert. It involves a system of muscles, vertebrae, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and discs, and injury to any one of those parts can cause serious pain.

Common Causes of Upper Back Pain from Car Accidents

Depending on the root cause of your pain, your symptoms might include stiffness, tingling sensations, pain that radiates into other areas of the body, a sharp or stabbing pain, or an ache.

Some of the most common injuries that cause thoracic spine pain after car accidents are:

  1. Herniated Discs

Between each vertebra in the thoracic spine lies a disc that’s filled with a soft, jelly-like center. If that disc ruptures or slips out of place, it can push on nearby nerves and cause pain, numbness, and tingling. These injuries can occur at any point along the spinal cord, and upper back herniations are typically caused by traumatic incidents like a car accident.

Herniated and bulging discs are often very painful, and when left untreated, they can also lead to other degenerative spinal conditions in the future.

  1. Whiplash

Whiplash occurs when the head and neck experience a sudden extension (backward motion) followed by a flexion (forward motion). This can happen even in minor accidents at speeds as low as 5-10 miles per hour, and it’s especially common in rear-end collisions.


Whiplash symptoms don’t always present themselves immediately after the accident, so many people struggle to connect their upper back pain back to the accident that caused it.

But if you’re experiencing upper back or neck pain after being rear ended (even if the accident was months ago), there’s a strong chance you might be experiencing whiplash.

  1. Muscle Strains, Ligament Sprains, and Tears

When a muscle, ligament, or tendon in the back stretches or even tears, it can cause soreness, swelling, and limited range of motion. In some cases, strains and sprains can heal on their own, but in more severe cases, they may require medical care.

Because sprains, strains, and tears all have similar symptoms, it’s important to seek out medical care to determine how serious your injury is.

A strain happens when a muscle or a tendon (the tissue connecting a muscle to bone) is stretched or begins to tear. A sprain is when that stretching or tearing happens to a ligament (the tissue connecting two bones together).

Whatever the case may be, a chiropractor can diagnose your injury, help you get back to feeling good faster, and reduce your risk of future complications.

  1. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that protects your bones wears down over time, causing the bones in a joint to rub against each other.

When you fracture your spine, tear a ligament, or experience another acute injury in a car accident, this can cause post-traumatic arthritis, which may develop months or even years after the initial incident.

  1. Pinched Nerves

A pinched nerve in the thoracic spine occurs when a nerve is compressed by surrounding tissues, and can cause pain that radiates to other parts of the body. A chiropractor can help you heal faster with a chiropractic adjustment that relieves the pressure on the nerve.

In the upper back, pinched nerves are most common around the ribcage.

When to Get Help for Upper Back Pain After a Car Accident

Some minor back injuries can be treated with ice, over the counter anti-inflammatory medicine, and rest. But the symptoms of these injuries are often similar to those of more serious conditions, so how do you know when you should see a medical professional?

When in doubt, we always recommend getting an expert opinion. It’s better to know for sure than to risk leaving a serious injury untreated, or suffering in pain for longer than you need to.

If your pain traces back to a traumatic incident — like pain between your shoulder blades after a car accident, stiffness from a sports injury, or upper back pain after a fall — you should definitely see a professional. And if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, get help right away:

  • Fever
  • Intense headache
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble walking

Seek medical assistance and go to the emergency room if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above.

Even if your pain doesn’t seem severe, it’s important to see a chiropractor if it doesn’t get better after a few days. Minor back injuries can lead to serious conditions later in life if they’re left untreated. Plus, you should never suffer for longer than you need to if an injury can be quickly treated.

How a Chiropractor Treats Upper Back Pain

 An experienced chiropractor like Dr. Rush has access to a variety of treatment methods that can help you experience pain relief and also create an optimal environment for your body to heal itself.

When you visit Dr. Rush for upper back pain, he will first take time to diagnose the problem and develop a treatment plan based on the nature of the injury.

How a Chiropractor Treats Upper Back Pain

For a herniated disc or other joint injury, Dr. Rush may use spinal decompression therapy to gently stretch the spine. This increases the space between the vertebrae to promote faster healing and allow the discs and joints to realign naturally.

He may also use chiropractic adjustment for injuries like strains, sprains, and pinched nerves. By applying controlled force to hypomobile joints, this treatment can help restore your range of motion and help the affected areas to heal.

Some patients might also benefit from electrical muscle stimulation, a technique where we send mild electrical pulses into target areas to help loosen tight muscles and reduce pain.

Whatever chiropractic treatment is right for you, Dr. Rush can help you find pain relief and lasting results. Don’t wait to get treatment after a car accident! Give us a call today at 954-432-5006 to schedule a consultation.

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