What Happens to Your Body in a Rear-End Collision?

This article has been updated November 2020.

When John* pulled out from the Applebees on Pines Boulevard and stopped at the intersection on N. Palm Avenue, he had no idea his life was about to change for the worse.

He’d barely stopped at the light when another car hit him from behind. The collision occurred so fast that afterward, he could hardly remember how it happened. It wasn’t a particularly nasty accident – his car only received a small dent. But it ruined John’s day. Unfortunately, he had no idea how long he would be feeling the effects of this wreck.

John initially didn’t believe he’d been hurt; he didn’t even go to the hospital following the wreck. But three weeks later, he awoke with a throbbing headache and a stiff neck. He tried to treat the pain with over-the-counter medicines, but his symptoms worsened. After a few weeks, he visited his doctor. John’s doctor put him on a prescription pain medication, which helped at first. But John’s symptoms grew worse and worse, and it took a higher dosage every few days to dull the ache. John knew the cycle couldn’t continue, and, on the advice of a friend, he made an appointment with Rush Chiropractic.

Like many other patients before him, John did not realize his symptoms were connected to the car accident. It seemed so minor that he didn’t connect the dots. By now, the wreck was old news – insurance had been sorted, and if not for the pain, he would have forgotten the whole incident. But even small rear-end collisions can have substantial physical effects.


The Physics of a Collision

Rear-end collisions are among the most common kind of car accidents – about 50% of all two-vehicle accidents per year are rear-end crashes. The Washington Post reported in 2015 that there are about 1.7 million rear-end collisions each year. These wrecks kill roughly 1,7000 people and injure another 500,000. These injuries range from the catastrophic to the superficial. And the effects on one’s body are not always immediately apparent.

The injuries experienced during a rear-end collision will vary depending on how fast the cars were going. But even a minor wreck can cause severe damage. When another vehicle hits yours from behind, its momentum is shifted to your car – and your body. A car going 20 miles an hour may not seem like it’s moving quickly but imagine transferring that 20 mph, very suddenly, onto a human body. If you were at rest before the crash – perhaps waiting at a stoplight – that sudden motion can be traumatic.

Upon impact, both you and your car are jerked forward suddenly. Then your body is snapped back just as quickly – usually by your seatbelt: your spine and head crash against the seat behind you. Because you weren’t expecting the impact, you can’t brace against it. Your head snaps forward and backward in a violent motion. This can cause a cascade of injuries all up and down the spine.

The impact can also cause internal and soft-tissue injuries. Your organs may be jerked forward and then backward in their cavities, slamming into rigid structures inside your body (like the ribcage). In the most severe cases, organs can rupture. Unfortunately, two life-saving innovations – seat belts and airbags – are not without risk. Airbags deploy with tremendous force; if you’re sitting too close to your steering wheel when yours goes off, you risk a broken nose. Injuries caused by airbags and seat belts are not worth the risk of death from not using them, but it’s essential to understand how they can act upon the body during a wreck.


The Most Common Injuries Seen with Rear-End Collisions

Car wrecks are a big headache, but they can also cause big headaches. John’s GP tried to treat his pain using pharmaceuticals, but it only masked his symptoms. The cause of his discomfort wasn’t addressed, so the medication was only a Band-Aid on the problem. If he hadn’t sought a second opinion, he would have needed ever-increasing doses to manage his daily pain.

While pharmaceuticals have many uses, they aren’t always the most effective or beneficial treatment for an injury. Chiropractic care treats and heals ailments without the use of drugs. Here are some of the most common ailments people experience after a rear-end collision and some ways your chiropractor can help.



Whiplash occurs when your head is snapped forward and then backward with force. When this happens, the ligaments and muscles in your neck are stretched past the point of safety. This violent, uncontrolled motion can cause tearing in the ligaments, tendons, or other neck muscles. Whiplash can occur in the most seemingly minor accidents. Two vehicles colliding at a mere 5 mph creates enough force to cause whiplash. Most whiplash injuries happen at speeds under 14 mph.

The effects of whiplash may be felt immediately or may crop-up weeks after the accident. Neck pain, stiffness, dizziness, blurred vision, and headaches are all common symptoms. Patients may also experience tingling or numbness in the extremities. The effects of whiplash can last years if untreated.

Chiropractors typically take a gentle approach to whiplash. They will generally combine cold and heat therapies to reduce soreness and swelling in the muscles. Then they will proceed with careful spinal manipulation to restore the cervical spine’s proper alignment.herniated-disc

Herniated Disc

herniated disc can be the source of excruciating neck and back pain and is a common injury resulting from a rear-end collision. In-between each vertebra is a soft disc designed to cushion the vertebrae and allow them to move smoothly and It. These discs can be ruptured due to injury. Herniated discs (also called slipped discs) can push against surrounding nerves, causing numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the arms, legs, and other parts of the body. Herniated discs are most common in the lower back (lumbar spine) but can also occur in the neck (cervical spine).

Herniated discs can usually be healed without surgical intervention. Your chiropractor’s approach may vary depending on the severity of the injury. Treatment may involve spinal manipulation, manual therapy, and physical therapy.

One effective treatment for herniated discs is spinal decompression therapy – this is one of our specialties at Rush Chiropractic. This therapy uses a computerized traction unit to gently straighten the spine. It increases the space between vertebrae and allows the displaced disc to slip naturally back into place. Spinal decompression therapy also increases blood flow to the injured area, allowing your injury to heal more quickly.


Muscle strain

A herniated disc is not the only form of back injury that can result from a rear-end collision. Auto accidents can cause other forms of backache. This pain could be intermittent or persistent.

Some back pain is the result of muscle strain. Wrecks can happen so quickly that the body compensates for the collision before the conscious mind know what’s happening. Your body braces for impact, and muscles tighten. Unfortunately, this can lead to further injury and pain; contracted muscles are more easily torn than relaxed ones.

Back pain can also arise as a complication from other injuries. A person who injures her leg in a wreck may have no initial back pain. Still, after weeks of muscle tension from compensating for her injured leg, her lower back becomes inflamed.

At Rush Chiropractic, we offer massage therapy in addition to manual adjustments. This gentle approach relieves tension and stops the vicious cycle of compensatory injury. Your massage therapist will construct a treatment timeline that can get you feeling good again without the use of pharmaceuticals.headaches-migraines

Headaches and Migraines

Headaches can be insidious. With all the damage to one’s neck and cervical spine in a rear-end collision, it’s no surprise that headaches can result. But sometimes, they don’t arise until weeks or months after a car accident.

Headaches are not all created equal; some present as a dull ache, and others as stabbing pain. You may be suffering from a trauma headache or feeling the effects of a pinched nerve.

Muscle spasms can also lead to headaches. Whiplash causes muscles in the neck to contract in an effort to protect the spine. This abrupt, involuntary response can lead to spasms where the neck muscles continually tighten long after the accident is over.

Concussion – when your brain collides with the inner wall of your skull – is another common effect of rear-end collisions. Concussions can cause moderate to severe headaches, in addition to nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Gentle, precise manipulation of the cervical spine can help restore alignment, promote healing, and reduce or eliminate headaches. Other treatment options include manual and soft-tissue therapy, heat and ice, massage, and electrical nerve stimulation. Your chiropractor’s approach will vary depending on the cause of your cranial ache.

Have You Been in a Rear-End Collision?

At John’s initial evaluation, Dr. Rush diagnosed him with whiplash, and they began a 6-week treatment plan. His pain was gone within 2 sessions, but the remaining 4 weeks were essential to his recovery. Chiropractic care is a holistic method that works best with repeat visits. John and Dr. Rush worked to strengthen and support the muscles in his neck, not only to free him from the pain of his accident but to prevent reinjury.

At Rush Chiropractic, we specialize in treating patients who have been injured in car accidents. Dr. Rush has helped countless patients suffering from neck, spine, back, and deep-tissue injuries, and he can help you today.

Why be in pain a minute longer? Give us a call right now at 954-432-5006 to schedule your consultation today.

*To protect the privacy of our patients, we have anonymized this article.

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