Out of Alignment: Ways a Car Accident Can Affect Your Back and Spine



A car crash subjects your spine to extraordinary force that can damage its delicate system of muscles, bones, and soft tissue. A traumatic spinal cord injury or broken back is a medical emergency that can cause permanent paralysis. However, many back injuries are more subtle and may not show up immediately following an accident. Here are some of the ways a car accident can damage your back and spine.

Sprains and Strains

When you strain your back, the tendons that connect muscles to bones are stretched too much, causing injury and pain. A sprain is a similar injury that involves ligaments, the structures that connect bones and joints. These injuries don’t show up on x-rays or CT scans, so your doctor or chiropractor must diagnose and treat based on physical exams.

Herniated Discs

The rubbery pads between two vertebrae can shift during an accident and press on nerves. This condition is called a herniated, slipped, bulged, or ruptured disc. As the protruding part of the disc pushes on nerves, you could experience pain, burning, weakness, or numbness that radiates through your body. Untreated disc pain often gets worse or comes back, but a car accident chiropractor can manipulate the spine and may be able to relieve disc pain.


Pain in your lower back after an accident may not be from a herniated disc. It could be spondylolisthesis, instead. This is a condition where a vertebra slips out of place and onto the next vertebrae down. In most cases, a chiropractor can successfully correct the spinal instability and alleviate accompanying lower back and leg pain. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

Facet Joint Injuries

Facet joints connect the bones of the spine and allow for bending and twisting. Nerve roots run through these joints and can become inflamed by joint injury. The result is the pain of the injury, tenderness of soft tissue, and radiating pain. Previous trauma can make injury and pain more likely. A facet joint injury often responds well to pain medication, joint injections, and chiropractic treatment.

Degenerative Conditions

Degenerative disc disorder and other conditions caused by a car accident may not show up until months or years after an injury. An accident can also speed up the progression of existing spinal issues. Age combined with degeneration can cause additional problems, including bone spurs, sciatica, pinched nerves, and narrowing of the spinal column.

If you’ve been in an accident and you suspect spine damage, you should visit a chiropractor as soon as possible. A car accident chiropractor can be particularly useful because they have experience with spine damage caused by accidents. They’ll know what injuries are most common for the type of accident you were in, and they’ll be able to quickly diagnose whether you have one of these or something else.

People frequently say their spine is out of alignment when they have one or more of these conditions, but the issue may be more complex than just an alignment issue. Fortunately, help is available from doctors and chiropractors who specialize in spinal injury and pain. Speak with a trusted medical professional if you have a back injury from a car accident, and you’ll find out that you don’t have to live in pain.


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